“It’s such a struggle to self-produce your own film” sighs Davide Manuli. “You’ve got no idea, cinema is a rigid and harsh structure that does not allow any intrusion among its ranks,” he continues.
Far from being dispirited, the director of La Leggenda di Kaspar Hauser even finds time to laugh at his own hardships, turning production austerity into a poetic asset. After three years spent fighting the institutional mediocrity that suffocates creativity while advocating the predictable, Manuli finally managed to bring his Kaspar Hauser to Rotterdam’s International Film Festival (where it is included in the Spectrum section).
It’s hard to find adequate words to convey the rare beauty of this film, for its visions are of a primeval kind; its expressive thrust passes through your guts before hitting your head. The epic pulse of techno music inflates the long shots with a visceral evocation, investing the spectator with the sheer force of vision.
The skeleton of a society that is no more welcomes an androgynous Kaspar Hauser, shipwrecked on the shores of a deserted island where the sheriff patrols empty alleys and duels with his own image reflected in a mirror. A techno-western whose frontier is not that of conquest but of loss, the founding myth of civilization is reduced to its ghostly remnants: the self-delusional puppets of a collapsed order.
The Duchess, the Priest, the Servant are nothing but organs of a social body that has rotted away – the setting is “y” and the year is “0” – what distinguishes them are the labels on their clothes not their (dys)functions. They are branded souls in the hyper-market of reality whose sleepwalk is obstructed by the arrival of Kaspar and his illiterate wisdom, which the exporters of civilization cannot domesticate or sell. An alien mystery (“a king or a criminal?”) shows up in all its naked truthfulness undermining the petty certainties of a blindfolded humanity that wonders: “if there is no inside or outside, where the fuck does the foreigner come from?”. Never mind the answer: an outlandish anomaly is to be made compliant or eliminated; our dumb culture cannot afford contamination from those who speak, dress and behave differently. Yet in this post-futuristic tale Kaspar is hardly mentored, he meets a society that teaches nothing because it has nothing to teach.
The scorching surrealism of a hallucinated island bears more similarities to our social currency than countless ‘observational’ films that stare at ‘reality’ without piercing its obsolete travesty. Against the figurative presumption of realism Manuli’s Kaspar Hauser has the audacity to strip the real of its pretence, to expose the grey void pulsing at its core. Moving passages of operatic magnitude, where dissonance sublimates into harmony, grace the film, absurdity turns into prescience; sexual beauty becomes an erratic presence and a devastating absence.
With an economic situation threatening to purge cinema of its unexpected cracks of visionary insubordination Manuli’s film is an essential vessel to traverse the aesthetic aridity of western civilization and its emotional sclerosis.
Celluloid Liberation Front is a multi-use(r) name, an “open reputation” informally adopted and shared by a desiring multitude of insurgent cinephiles, transmedial terrorists, aesthetic dynamyters and random deviants. For reasons that remain unknown, the name was borrowed from a collective of anti-imperialist blind filmmakers from the Cayman Islands. Twitter feed here.