'Lost and Beautiful': Film Review

Lost and Beautiful Still - H 2016
Courtesy of Film Society of Lincoln Center/MOMA
Strains for a poeticism that it never achieves.

Pietro Marcello's documentary takes a fantastical turn after the sudden death of its lead subject.

Petro Marcello's film recently showcased at the New Directors/New Films festival started out as a relatively straightforward documentary about Tommasso Cestrone, a farmer in the southern Campania region of Italy who became known as the "Angel of Carditello." The honorary title was accorded him because of his generous efforts restoring and maintaining an abandoned Bourbon palace, toiling away for years with no financial assistance from the governmental and even suffering threats from the Mafia.

Unfortunately, Cestrone, who is seen to powerful effect in the film's early section, suddenly died of a heart attack midway through the 2013 shooting. Another filmmaker would have abandoned the project, and with good reason. Not so Marcello, who transformed it into a mystical fantasia that is ultimately as stupefying as it is pretentious. The result, Lost and Beautiful, lives up to only the first part of its title.

Once the original subject departs from the scene, the film concentrates on a new character, Pulcinella (Sergio Vitolo) — yes, the masked figure from commedia dell'arte tradition — who returns from the afterlife to find a new home for Sarchiapone, the buffalo calf who belonged to Cestrone. He's a handsome animal, and a particularly eloquent one, as we learn when he shares his thoughts (voiced by Elio Germano) about his predicament throughout the pair's seemingly endless wanderings in the Italian countryside.

Although clearly intended to be brimming with symbolical meanings, Lost and Beautiful — which at least is visually striking, thanks to being shot on expired 16mm film stock — never finds sufficient cinematic poetry in its dreamlike storytelling infused with neo-realistic elements. By the time that Pulcinella manages to get the calf to a gregarious shepherd (non-pro Gesuino Pittalis), viewers will have long since ceased to care, although the final shot, of a tear falling down the animal's face as he faces a horrible fate, is a haunting echo of a far more powerful film, Robert Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar.

Venue: New Directors/New Films
Production: Ulidi piccolo mia, Cineteca Bologna, Terra Madre
Cast: Tommaso Cestrone, Sergio Vitolo, Elio Germano, Gesuino Pittalis
Director: Pietro Marcello
Screenwriters: Maurizio Braucci, Pietro Marcello
Producers: Sara Fgaier, Pietro Marcello
Directors of photography: Salvatore Landi, Pietro Marcello
Editor: Sara Fgaier
Composers: Marco Messina, Sacha Ricci

Not rated, 87 minutes