Noted Italo thesp Alessandro Haber makes a bizarrely captivating directorial debut with a version of Vittorio Franceschi’s play “Crazy Mate,” a 1990 legit hit about a man who’s the prisoner of eternal childhood. Reprising the original cast, this three-handed tragi-comedy (directed on stage by the late Nanni Loy) is a classic piece of modern Italian theater with all its virtues and vices, a good reason in itself for festival showcasing. Briefly released last fall, the indie production is in a city-by-city boutique re-release, with good per-screen averages.
Haber is famous, among other things, as the star and subject of Enzo Monteleone’s mockumentary about the world’s unluckiest actor, “The Real Story of Antonio H.” In “Crazy Mate,” he plays Tonino, a grown man who, after a tragic car accident in which his fiancee was killed, has lost his marbles and acts like a little boy. Brother Valerio (Vittorio Franceschi), who was driving the car, assuages his massive guilt complex by taking care of him in their large, run-down apartment. This includes pretending to be both their dead parents — he dons a wig for the mother, a clown nose for the father.
After their life of ordinary madness is established, story gets stuck in a claustrophobic two-actor groove until Marianna (Monica Scattini) turns up on the doorstep. Valerio has invited her to move in and possibly wed, but first she has to get used to Tonino’s oddities, like spying on her through the keyhole in bed and bath. The psychodrama takes off in unexpected directions when she assumes the role of his painfully absent mother and his friend,among other things.
Unlike, say, Spiro Scimone and Francesco Sframeli’s stage-to-film “Two Friends,” which made the fest rounds a couple years ago, Haber makes no attempt to “open up” the play. The downside to that is loads of superfluous dialogue. Pic’s rhythm, too, is noticeably stagy: emotional peaks and troughs, comedy followed by pathos, manic activity alternating with moments of melancholy and trumpet solos.
Yet once the viewer adjusts to its pace and wordiness, this actors’ film captivates. Fourteen years on, the middle-aged cast slip into their roles like a comfortable shoe, comically and ruthlessly acting out the eternal family drama. It makes very little difference the thesps have aged.
Haber has an eye for symbolic detail, like Tonino’s toy soldiers and train, which work well on film, while Italo Petriccione’s DV camerawork gives the sets the feeling of a comfy family dwelling with no exit. There are a lot of nice things to listen to on the music track by Giuseppe Fulcheri — maybe a few too many. Original Italian title is a pun on “Checkmate.”
For the record, play was already filmed in 1996 by Maurizio Zaccaro, as “Deep Fried Brains” (Cervellini impanati fritti), starring Haber, Roberto Citran and Anna Galiena.