FunAstrology“Bad Tales” in the cinema: Italian surrealism

“Bad Tales” in the cinema: Italian surrealism

The bizarre suburban drama “Bad Tales” by Fabio and Damiano D’Innocenzo.

Susan Sontag once coined the expression “American Surrealism” for the fascination of her compatriots with the everyday and remote, that morbid highway that leads from the photographs of Diane Arbus straight to the films of David Lynch. But this highway has long since branched off into the whole world. After all, the Americans did not invent the neatly separated front gardens, in which one could find cut-off ears between the blades of grass in the sunshine.

The Italian brothers Fabio and Damiano D’Innocenzo have set their second feature film after “Boys Cry” in a Roman suburb, but it could also be Lynchtown. A white picket fence surrounds a row house garden where strange things happen.

A family man struggles to fry steaks, but when the 11-year-old son chokes on it, there is a huge riot. He is quickly shaken upside down, and when he begins to cry, his father, betrayed of his attention, joins the moaning. “Do you see what you’ve done?” The woman asks Mama reproachfully. “You made your father cry.”

Paolo Carnera’s static camera captured the whole scene from an impressive bird’s-eye view, which emphasizes the proximity to the American photographic art of Gregory Crewdson or Larry Sultan. Viewed according to their motives for action, this episodic collage of bizarre banalities fits into a coming-of-age film.

But while four adolescents have to cross the threshold to puberty in an oversexualized but callous environment, the biggest child is the father. Played by Elio Germano, one of the most respected Italian actors of his generation, you just wait for whatever is brewing inside you to suddenly overflow.

There is a foretaste when he builds a swimming pool in the garden, but is so annoyed about the success with the neighboring children that he demolishes it himself. “It was the gypsies,” it says.

For an atmosphere of bitter stagnation, a lot actually happens in this summer hell. Even if the boy is served a drop of breast milk on a biscuit by a young pregnant woman. This seems no more a delicacy than the burnt steak.

Splendor of the box of chocolates

As often as the filmmakers are compared to the Austrian Ulrich Seidl for their preferences, there is little connection between their positions. While Seidl ties something raw into solid shapes, the D’Innocenzos wrap the banal in the splendor of boxes of chocolates. Italian cinema has had a problem with over-aestheticism for decades. Even with Paolo Sorrentino, a much better director, you can sometimes get the impression that equipment, camera and actors outdo each other, without each side of the script being able to keep up. With this film, it is almost curious that the penultimate Berlinale jury awarded the filmmakers for their script work, of all things.

Even the narration – allegedly read from a found diary, which is then spun on – seems unnecessary. The film looks like an excellently drawn comic that lacks a good copywriter. Eventually the decor takes on a life of its own, and it really turns into a certain kind of surrealism. But more of a European one, as he made himself known early on in the shadow of the avant-garde: finely painted tableaus, which, however, no longer reveal the unconscious – but the all-too-familiar.

Bad Tales. Italy / Switzerland 2020. Directed by Damanio and Fabio D’Innocenzo. 98 minutes.

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