Loosely based on Pier Paolo Pasolini’s last project, “PornoTeoKolossal,” which the director was preparing when he was murdered in 1975, “We Free Kings” has been adapted by Pasolini’s close collaborator Sergio Citti into a gentle, universal appeal for more humanity. Missing the acid bite of Citti’s best work (“Casotto,” “Minestrone”), pic is also low on the kind of broad humor that would make it work at the local box office, despite the lively presence of comic Silvio Orlando in a leading role. It will find most of its offshore auds at festivals.
A trio of Italian, French and German performers in a down-and-out three-man traveling circus (Orlando, Patrick Bauchau and Rolf Zacher) tramp through the Italian countryside, trying to scare up rural audiences. Their luck changes when they are hired by Father Gregorio (Gastone Moschin) to play the three wise men in his town’s traditional Christmas pageant. Their tussles with supplanted union-wage actors, and a collective complaint from the ladies’ chorus that the wise men took advantage of them, furnish Citti with some thin farcical material.
When the trio realize there are no babies in the town to play Jesus, they accuse the childless country folk of egoism and shame them into going home to “make babies.” This is the start of a picaresque, magical journey to other lands (where they meet God the Father, among others) in search of the new Messiah.
All-too-brief cameos by Pasolini regulars Ninetto Davoli, Franco Citti and Laura Betti don’t do much to make “We Free Kings” a significant film. It is mildly enjoyable as a dignified romp through Citti and Pasolini’s favorite locations: shantytowns on the outskirts of the big cities, empty fields stretching out desolately from low-rent housing projects.
Orlando, Bauchau and Zacher strain to work together as a comic team, but the material just isn’t there. Moschin is one of the stronger characters as the unbuttoned parish priest whose only concern is getting his pageant out on time.
Pic contains a few moments of lyrical poetry, like the poor man’s ode to sky, air and sun, that remind viewers ofa magical-mystical Italian film tradition (De Sica’s “Miracle in Milan,” Pasolini’s “The Hawks and the Sparrows”) that has long since disappeared. Tech credits aim for a naive, homemade look that underlines pic’s sincerity.