Few filmmakers can portray the beauty, hardship and subtle comedy of peasant life as eloquently and sympathetically as Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, but although their films have enjoyed some success internationally (especially the three movies in this collection) the brothers’ work is still not as well-known as it should be. Hopefully, this handsome new Blu-ray set will help to correct that oversight, at least in the UK.
Padre Padrone (Father, Master) is a bittersweet coming-of-age tale about a young boy called Gavino whose father literally hauls him out of primary school to tend to the family’s herd of sheep. As Gavino grows older his father continues to terrorise him until he finally decides to make a break for freedom and emigrate overseas with other men from his village, but that plan is thwarted when the authorities discover his father didn’t sign the release form. Instead, Gavino’s father punishes his naïve and illiterate son by forcing him to join the army, not realising that this will be Gavino’s salvation. In the army, Gavino begins to educate himself and, returning to his family home, finally puts an end to the old man’s tyranny. On paper, this story might sound a bit of a downer but – as in all of the films in this collection – there’s a fabulous vein of irony and black humour running through it all. The voiceover from the sheep is a classic, but you might be put off chickens for life.
The Night of the Shooting Stars is probably the most accessible of the three films. Set near the end of World War II, it follows a small band of Tuscan villagers whose homes are about to be destroyed by the retreating Germans. Their only hope is to escape into the night and seek help from the advancing American troops, but it is a dangerous gambit. The villagers are mercilessly hunted down by a band of pro-Nazi fascists – people who used to be their neighbours - and after joining up with a group of armed rebels, they take a final violent stand against their oppressors inside a wheatfield. It is a stunning, heartbreaking climax to a remarkable film, and some of the photography is iconic, especially during a moment when one of the Blackshirts is felled by a multitude of spears, courtesy of a young child’s frenzied imagination.
The final film – Kaos – is the longest and most problematic of the three. It is essentially a portmanteau developed around four short stories by the Sicilian author Luigi Pirandello, and although there isn’t a weak episode in the bunch it wasn’t until we watched the disc’s main special feature, a visual essay about how the film was constructed, that we really began to appreciate what we’d just seen. Amongst Kaos’ highpoints are ‘Moon Sickness’, a morality tale about a young husband who is bewitched by the full moon – no, he doesn’t go full lycanthrope but it’s still not a pleasant sight – and ‘The Jar’, a comic tale about greed and freedom that centres around a hunchbacked man who traps himself inside a wealthy landowner’s giant olive jar. Still, if we had to choose a favourite, it would be the film’s opening story, ‘The Other Son’, which is sad and intriguing, with a centrepiece that won’t easily be forgotten.
As far as presentation goes, Night of the Shooting Stars and Kaos look especially lush on Blu-ray, with Padre Padrone acquitting itself well but showing the limitations of its source material. Among the extras is a two-part interview with the Taviani brothers, trailers and still galleries. This is a truly fantastic boxset that should be a part of everybody’s Blu-ray collection. Don’t miss it.
THREE FILMS BY PAOLO & VITTORIO TAVIANI / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: PAOLO TAVIANI, VITTORIO TAVIANI / SCREENPLAY: PAOLO TAVIANI, VITTORIO TAVIANI, TONINO GUERRA, GIULIANI G. DE NEGRI / STARRING: OMERO ANTONUTTI, SAVERIO MARCONI, FABRIZIO FORTE, MARGARITA LOZANO, ORAZIO TORRISI / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW