The Tale of King Crab (
directed by Alessio Rigo de Righi and Matteo Zoppi
starring Gabriele Silli, Maria Alexandra Lungu, Ercole Colnago
This beguiling fable of a film is the fiction debut by documentarians Alessio Rigo de Righi and Matteo Zoppi. In fact, the pair haven’t entirely abandoned the documentary format rather created something of a hybrid feature blending elements of truth, imagination and exaggeration in a way that echoes the passing on of folk tales or legends such as the story of luckless Luciano that serves as the central premise for The Tale of King Crab. Indeed the use of non-actors recounting stories and singing songs in the staged/scripted scenes that bookend this drama play as straight fly-on-the-wall documentary (though of course this would be a fly with the compound eye of the impressive cinematographer Simone D'Arcangelo). This framework lends some verisimilitude to the fiction that is introduced by this seemingly naturalistic gathering of rural Italian huntsmen in a lodge sharing a meal and recounting an old tale.
Split into two chapters the film tells the legend of Luciano who is first seen in part one (“The Saint Orsio Misdeed”) as the listless son of a town doctor in the verdant Italian countryside at the turn of the 19th/20th century who has fallen in love with the daughter (Lungu) of a local shepherd. That Luciano is most often seen staggering around town swigging from a wine bottle may be one of the reasons the father is not exactly enamoured by the prospect of Luciano hooking up with his daughter. Another could be his wild-eyed stare and gigantic beard. Luciano is played by another non-actor, Gabriele Silli who brings to the role something of the saintly calm of Rutger Hauer’s lead in The Legend of the Holy Drinker another Italian helmed picture that harked back to the tradition of neorealism.
By the end of chapter one Luciano has caused a scene at a ceremony for a saint and fallen foul of the local prince whose gate he has destroyed to allow sheep to be herded via a short cut close to his castle. To avoid prison he accepts being banished to Tierra Del Fuego in Argentina or “The Arsehole of the World” as the second chapter title announces. Here Luciano, or at least a variation of him as the Greek chorus of Italian huntsmen concur, appears in the guise of a priest and is attempting to lead a mission to uncover gold treasure hidden in a lake with the aid of a magical crab as his guide. As this second part shifts location it also dramatically changes tone with the transformed Luciano appearing as the kind of duplicitous quasi-mystical character that might have featured in a barren acid western from the 1970s.
Atmospheric and poetic, as much as the film is concerned with telling the fable of Luciano and the elusive king crab what it reveals is the mutable nature of stories themselves where truth, falsehood and meaning are a collusion shared by the teller and their audience.
The Tale of King Crab opens in the USA from April 15. Other territories to follow.