CPH:PIX Film Festival: The Legend of Kaspar Hauser

Categorised as ART., FILM.

Dir. Davide Manuli / Italian / Shooting Hope Productions, 2012

Even with the involvement of American provocateur Vincent Gallo, visual artist Davide Manuli’s take on the fabled German tale is obscure, brash and, above all else, boring.

In 2008, Italian filmmaker Manuli released Beket. Adopting a fragmented, Dadaist technique, he created a film that borrowed from the famed Irish playwrights’ fictional work and the public’s skewed perception of him. A nice idea; the final result was rather perfunctory and selfish, unjustly disregarding the source material in the process.

With his third feature, the self-proclaimed visionary is back treading familiar ground, only now with the much more opaquely formulated urban myth of Kaspar Hauser. In the tale, an imprisoned, uncultivated boy is dropped off in Nuremberg by an unknown shady figure. Learning about human nature for the first time, he is adopted into royal lineage, only to be then killed by a mysterious, cloaked figure. Already lovingly adapted by cool-handed director Werner Herzog back in the seventies, Manuli’s fidelity to the source material is questionable. Moving the German folklore to the beautifully desolate surroundings of Sardinia, changing the sex, age and backstory of the titular role, and, to top it all off, permitting Vincent Gallo unwelcomed screen time.

When he’s not too busy modelling, embracing outmoded republican values or getting blowies from actresses-cum-fashionistas, Vincent Gallo dabbles with acting. Back on the big screen here, the perpetual provocateur gives us not one, but two misjudged performances. Firstly as the Triple H wig wearing and gratingly high-pitched American Sheriff keeping Kaspar lovingly locked at bay, and the second as the desperately cool, white jumpsuit wearing Italian Pusher destined to kill the captive stranger. Recklessly parading around with improvised dialogue, failed attempts at petty humour and an unnecessary, out of character guitar solo lasting three minutes, Manuli clearly had problems restraining the notoriously difficult Gallo and keeping a lid on this pressure-cooker of a film altogether.

Regrettably, the annoyances don’t stop there. Diluting the central character, androgynous conceptual artist Silvia Calderoni is forced into the difficult lead. Yelping and bopping around the island in Adidas jumpsuits which would have Jam Master Jay spinning discs in his grave, she makes the feral child character unsympathetic, and the film increasingly more difficult to sit through.

Uneven acting and a misleadingly awesome teaser trailer aside, the film’s biggest setback is Manuli’s desperate attempt at a pretentious, perfume ad aesthetic. Shot all too handsomely in a harsh, white-over-black tone and accompanied with a thumping soundtrack from electronic musician Vitalic, The Legend of Kaspar Hauser is more of an extended music video from an overeducated film student than a cinematic feast for the eyes.

The 4th CPH:PIX festival runs from 12 – 29th April across Copenhagen. Find out more here.


Luke Richardson

Read more of his film reviews here.

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