Strangeness [La stranezza] — Italian Film Festival 2023

Reviewed by John P. Harvey.

Sicilian comedy legends Valentino Picone and Salvatore Ficarra play Onofrio and Sebastiano, gravediggers and enthusiastic amateur playwrights for their local amateur theatre company in the Sicilian town of Agrigento.  Onofrio’s sister, Maria Antonietta (Donatella Finocchiaro), is a member of the company.  But Onofrio’s brotherly concern for Maria Antonietta’s virtue has led him to virtually imprison her in watchfulness, and this has naturally led to resentment and tension between them that will eventually become a public spectacle.

In the course of their funeral work, Onofrio and Sebastiano meet the legendary playwright Luigi Pirandello (legendary in life as well as in the film, and played by the legendary Toni Servillo) and invite him to the opening of their forthcoming play — a play that happens to expose to the public eye the very corruption that Pirandello was subjected to in the course of making funeral arrangements and is destined to expose even more.

Pirandello himself has begun work on a play, for which he has created six characters but cannot find a story.  When he attends the opening of Onofrio and Sebastiano’s play, he hopes to obtain some inspiration, and indeed he does, resulting in a characteristically convoluted play titled Six Characters in Search of an Author: a play-within-a-play that the real-life Pirandello indeed wrote in 1921 and produced in 1923.

The result is potentially perplexing.  Strangeness makes interesting use of audience expectations to leave the viewer uncertain quite how much the film is depicting as real and how much as part of a play.  But such uncertainty really comes to the fore after the film’s end and in no way spoils the fun.  This is a film well worth watching for the mix of comic tensions that Picone and Ficarra excel at and for the delightfully pokerfaced responses that are a Servillo speciality, as well as for its novel use of multiple fictional elements.  And it’s a fun story.  Offering bemusing enlightenment in considering matters of little importance as its topics, and filmed in a style that makes everyday Sicilian poverty incidental to the real life of human relationships, Strangeness offers a subtly different perspective on reality itself.

Screening at Palace cinemas.

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