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quietearth [Celluloid 09.14.09] Italy movie review horror fantasy

Year: 2009
Directors: Antonio Monti
Writers: Anotonio Monti & Chiara Parodi & Davide Zagnoli
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: oblivion & quietearth
Rating: N/A (read the review)

Is Antonio Monti the next great Italian auteur? Considering the inventive storytelling and aphotic atmosphere, Monti's Grimm style fairytale, Monkey Boy, seems a strong prologue towards an outstanding career. However, there are also many flaws which might detract from the film's success, alienating an audience despite it's distinct merit. In the end, we still have to recommend this film for it's vision.

Monkey Boy opens with an incredible black and white animation sequence, in the visual vein of the Twilight Zone introduction, that delivers a rich fairy tale backstory to parallel the darkness ahead. The cellar harbors the focal point of our adventure, a freak of nature, possibly half-man-half-monkey, that has been sheltered from the world. Leaving the safe haven, Monkey Boy sets an entire story into motion, encompassing six characters whose fates are tied together. Besides our protagonist, this includes an autistic girl, her inspector father, a police chief, a prostitute, and an old lady, all of whom harken back to characters in the opening narrative. Monkey Boy's discovery of the world, his inability to deal with people, and unlikely friendship with the autistic girl spark a criminal investigation which only leads to more tragedy. Along the way, each characters motivations and fears are explored in brief flashbacks that heighten the foreboding style of twisted memory and somatic, murky dreams.

One of the strongest points of this film is the framing backstory delivered at the beginning and throughout certain moments. However, it's not exactly clear all the time where each character fits into that tale. Vaguery is heavily employed, and while appropriate at some points, at others it leaves us confused and in need of more. For instance, the prostitute and the old lady seem ancillary, but we are led to believe they have a larger part. When we're given their backstories, the prostitute seems significantly younger but there's nothing to concretely connect her to the present, and the old lady seems to be two different people. Though some characters are obvious, we can clearly see that the script needs to be fleshed out more to convey the weight and involvement of each chapter.

When it comes to the autistic daughter, the princess of the fairy tale, the story is also problematic. Though the relationship between her and Monkey Boy is extremely important, it gets only a perfunctory treatment and no real intimacy is ever developed. Moreover this becomes a glaring flaw as the framing story is utilized throughout the film, but not in a way which establishes clarity. At several points, the narrator or the inspector repeat lines from the tale to ground the metaphorical devices, but this repitition is unncessary and instead, should have taken a more subtle approach. An audience is unlikely to forget the excellent opening animation and narrative, so repeating it throughout the film is like clubbing us over the head. What would seem more necessary is utilizing this device in ways that clarify the more confusing elements.

Speaking of confusing in a good way, when Monkey Boy gets out of the cellar we're treated to an excellent series of shots done over the shoulder, first person style, which also gives us a hazy view of the night through Monkey Boy's alienated and primal eyes. This technique mixed with out-of-focus closeups pervades the film, and while at times it's appropriate, even brilliant, it's so heavily overused that we have a constant feeling of claustrophobia and can never connect with the surrounding environments, spatially or meaningfully. We need more establishing, medium, and wide shots to lessen the effect of this anxiety driven technique. This and the unpolished story are the only flaws of this film, but they are inescapable.

Still, the flaws are offset by the incredible vision apparent in the production design. At no point during this film do we get the feeling it's a low budget endeavor, and the reality of its extremely low budget is a staggering testament to the director's ability. Seriously, this crew could make the Eiffel Tower out of chopsticks. Though this film might not appeal to a general audience, filmmakers and cinephiles should definitely not miss this. We'll be closely following Mr. Monti's work.

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ribisi (12 years ago) Reply



Avery (12 years ago) Reply

Ooh I really want to see this one!

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