The lives of traveling circus performers are unromantically, although gently, observed in “Babooska.” Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel’s cinema verite-style docu focuses on the everyday existence of one family in the modest Floriciccio Circus, while the actual circus is pushed to the distant sidelines. Raising kids rather than practicing knife throwing is in the center ring here, which forces viewers to readjust their expectations for this overlong film set under the Big Top. The aim is noteworthy, with prospects best for small screen showing rather than theatrical, following a solid fest tour.
Babooska Gerardi, who performs a hoola hoops act, is first shown complaining that the circus isn’t drawing flies in the small central Italian towns it’s touring. Publicity is done the old-fashioned way, with a bullhorn on a moving vehicle blasting the call to locals to come to “a modern heated circus.”
Covi and Frimmel’s camera never trains on the actual audiences attending the shows, but it’s clear that they’re not showing up. Babooska’s daily life is filled with chores from washing the dishes to cleaning the small trailer home she shares with daughter Azzurra, a cute tyke with a winning personality who seems able to adapt to constantly changing schools.
The film depicts the back-breaking labor, cramped quarters and permanent instability of circus life, but paradoxically shows the tough conditions as part of the glue that has kept much of the Gerardi family together.
Pic doesn’t offer background information on the circus business, declining B.O. or the names of the towns visited (noted only in brief dialogue snippets). Though this non-journalistic perspective may turn some auds off, it’s true to the mode of pure cinema verite as well as the recent wave of rigorous and expressive Austrian non-fiction moviemaking, which the docu (an Italian-Austrian co-prod) partly reps.
Frimmel’s lensing keeps close contact with Babooska’s family, with a fly-on-wall approach. Pic needs tightening, though. Repetition of routines and long fades push aud patience.