The Legend of Kaspar Hauser (La leggenda di Kaspar Hauser): Film Review

Cryptic take on the Hauser tale is out-there enough to make Werner Herzog look tame.

Don't ask what any of Davide Manuli's cryptic story is supposed to mean in this German youth film starring Vincent Gallo.

SEATTLE — Weird as hell but strangely compelling, Davide Manuli's The Legend of Kaspar Hauser reenvisions the German youth's story as a fable existing outside any recognizable reality and revolving around magic, dope, and thumping dance music. With Vincent Gallo hamming his way through not one but two roles, the cult-courting film will be catnip for Gallomaniacs. But the real star is Silvia Calderoni, a stage actress making her apparent film debut in the title role.
 
Shot in B&W on the isle of Sardinia, Legend offers a stark, out-of-time village whose many age-old buildings are inhabited by just a half-dozen characters. Gallo plays two: a constantly muttering Sheriff, with stringy blonde hair and a short fuse, and The Pusher, an enigma dressed in all-white motorcycle gear whose role in the community is not explained beyond his name.
 
The mysterious Hauser (referred to as a boy, though played by a flat-chested woman) washes up on the beach, almost dead, with big headphones on his ears and his name emblazoned on his naked torso. The Sheriff, who somehow anticipated Kaspar's arrival, brings the boy home and teaches him tricks: juggling oranges, for instance, and DJing. (For the island's "Duchess," Kaspar bangs his head against the wall repeatedly. "He's very talented," she declares. "Yeah, he's a special boy," the Sheriff replies.) At all times, Kaspar's headphones remain on -- connected to no music source, though the boy contorts to the beat of unheard dancefloor rhythms.
 
Using disconnected scenes to sketch out a just-barely-comprehensible narrative, Manuli delights in weird moments that sometimes play as parodies of '60s art and '70s cult cinema (complete with a strangely disfigured man playing the local priest's servant boy) and often seem intended solely for chemically-altered midnight audiences. Few sequences try the skeptical viewer's patience, though, and many entertain in their own way -- while Gallo lays his performance on thick, he's frequently upstaged by Calderoni's singular, beat-of-another-drummer physical presence.
 
Just don't ask what any of it -- especially bookending shots in which Gallo does Saturday Night Fever moves while UFOs zoom overhead -- means.
 
 
Bottom Line: Cryptic take on the Hauser tale is out-there enough to make Werner Herzog look tame

Venue: Seattle International Film Festival, Alternate Cinema
Production Companies: Shooting Hope Productions, Blue Film
Cast: Vincent Gallo, Claudia Gerini, Elisa Sednaoui, Silvia Calderoni, Fabrizio Gifuni
Director-Screenwriter: Davide Manuli
Producers: Bruno Tribbioli, Alessandro Bonifazi, Davide Manuli
Executive producers:
Director of photography: Tarek Ben Abdallah
Production designer: Giampietro Preziosa  
Music: Vitalic
Costume designer: Ginevra Polverelli   
Editor: Rosella Mocci
Sales: Intramovies
No rating, 91 minutes

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