In “Weird Tales,” a father tells his teenage daughter three surreal tall tales on a train, involving the other passengers in his bizarre imaginings. Though basically funny, the episodes are linked by an anguishing sense of building global doom. Handicapped by an uncertain pace, this first directorial effort by Sandro Baldoni (based on his own short stories published in Il Manifesto) nonetheless provokes many a chuckle of recognition at our absurd world, where nothing is too far-fetched to be partly true. Lack of stars as well as its eccentric viewpoint may keep it from scoring high onshore, but it could work as an offbeat fest item.
Thesp Ivano Marescotti is showcased in four different roles, which he fills like a chameleon. In the frame story, he is a grumpy, aloof businessman who categorically refuses to believe that scruffy narrator Flavio Bonacci’s tales are plausible. In the first tale, he is an average victimized citizen who wakes up wheezing one morning. Workmen tell him that his air has been cut off because he didn’t pay his bill. He embarks on a life-or-death dash through a Kafkaesque bureaucracy (painfully hilarious to anyone who has ever paid bills in Italy) to get his air turned back on.
In episode two, Marescotti is on sale at the neighborhood supermarket. He is bought by redheaded, single Silvia Cohen, who likes him because he’s so “tender.” But when he refuses to go to bed on command, she returns him to the supermarket manager as out-of-date merchandise.
The last and longest tale depicts the war between two neighboring families, one rich snobs, the other poor churls. This basic tension, aggravated by proximity, turns to open hostility. The escalating violence is punctuated by chilling TV news reports about Bosnia, Cuba and Rwanda. Mariella Valentini cameos as the slatternly companion of belching Marescotti, while Cohen plays the wickedly bitchy wife of preening Alfredo Pea. Film ends mysteriously with the passengers wandering around a bombed-out train. Its reference to the Italicus tragedy, a fascist train bombing that took many lives and was never solved, will be clear only to Italians.
Baldoni has good film instincts, and when his stories get rolling they catch the viewer up. Rhythm is marred, however, by repetition, which drags out the story unduly.
Despite its low-budget look, Giancarlo Basili’s art direction makes some visual points (as in the two apartments facing each other in the family war story).