Spettacolo

Directed by Jeff Malmberg and Chris Shellen

Once upon a time, villagers in a tiny hill town in Tuscany came up with a remarkable way to confront their issues: they turned their lives into a play. Every summer, their piazza became their stage and residents of all ages played a part – the role of themselves. Monticchiello’s annual tradition has attracted worldwide attention and kept the town together for 50 years, but with an aging population and a future generation more interested in Facebook than farming, the town’s 50th–anniversary performance just might be its last. SPETTACOLO tells the story of Teatro Povero di Monticchiello, interweaving episodes from its past with its modern-day process as the villagers turn a series of devastating blows into a new play about the end of their world.

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  • ★★★★ review by Prad Nelluru on Letterboxd

    What a gorgeous film, delicate and deftly executed. 

    The film follows a town engaging in autodrama. The town has put on a play every year for fifty years, but as times have changed it's been harder to keep putting it on. The film uses the play to document Tuscany's rise as a tourist hotspot, the flight of the young to the cities for better opportunities, and the withering of the community by aging. 

    The film presents plays as a transient experience, an effort that consumes many people, a way to discuss one's own lives, and something essential to sacrifice time and energy for. Making art for expressing a feeling or an idea otherwise inexpressible, for one's soul, sacrificing much - that's the noblest way to make art. And this is the viewpoint the film takes. It trains its lenses on the discussions about what to write a play about, their issues getting financing, their difficulty in convincing the aging population to join. It also shows the tourists dragging their rolling backpack on the stony streets (I cringed), the director's son running a bed & breakfast (with a shot of him taking a promotional shot), and kids playing soccer (a quick shot of a soccer star on one wall.) All these make the obvious intrusion of commercialism into their lives clear, without bludgeoning the viewer.

    There are many utterly beautiful shots of this picturesque little town. It's a sort of fairy land - pretty, on a hill, where the residents perform a fabulist's premise. A crumbling heaven.

    The residents themselves are completely clear-headed. "Objectively, we'll end up like every little town in Tuscany, empty."

    In the past few days, I've seen a few plays and met the people behind them. I need to nourish my soul by creating.

  • ★★★★ review by clongfieldsmith on Letterboxd

    This documentary was better than most and its subject matter and tone struck me. From the trailers I thought it was to be a light-hearted romp, but of course it had to be something more poignant.

    Monticchielo is a small Tuscan town with aging residents. Their national economy has been in crisis for years while the land around them has been swept up to serve as vacation homes. These people fought against the Nazis and created autodrama, theater based on their own experience and in which they somewhat play themselves. Through interviews, photographs, and old film we see just how creative and genuine this town has been in their art. (Thankfully we never have a sit down with a modern theater critic or playwright appraising the work or saying how it inspired them.)

    But how do you come up with a new idea for a play every year for 50 years? That's hard. What is it has to express the town's common experience? That's very hard. How will you schedule it around their working lives and the death and departure of so many of your actors? Good luck!

    This film is one of the best discussions of art I have ever seen. Of what it means to be human and try to do something that isn't consumption. I could not shake the great feeling of loss I have for leaving the theater. What traditions did I abandon? What beauty and meaning could I have made?

    And again, bravo to the filmmakers for getting out of the way and showing us these people and their story. Direction and production were excellent.

  • ★★★½ review by Marc Lummis on Letterboxd

    The film is too much in love with the people of Monticchello and the idea of autodrama to be wholly effective as a documentary, but it's still excellent at showing the charm of the whole production. Also, there's some gorgeous imagery of Tuscany, which doesn't hurt.

  • ★★★★½ review by Dan Binns on Letterboxd

    By turns inspiring, sad, and transcendent, this is a story about life, about tradition, about creativity. All played out, so to speak, against the staggering backdrop of the Tuscan countryside.

    [ MIFF'17-4 ]

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