Critics' Pick

Spettacolo (NR)

Documentary 91 min. September 6, 2017
By Bilge Ebiri
They call it "the town that plays itself." Monticchiello, population 118, is a tiny hamlet in Tuscany that, since the 1960s, has annually staged a new play written and performed by the local populace. We're told in Jeff Malmberg and Chris Shellen's documentary Spettacolo that this tradition "began, like many others, with costumes and fanfare," but quickly these theatrical pieces grew to touch on aspects of these people's lives. Early on, they tackled the fighting between the fascists and local partisans in the spring of 1944, when a group of Nazis rolled into town and nearly killed everyone. Over the years, the plays have focused in quite striking ways on social changes, political phenomena and economic turmoil. One year, the townspeople turned the whole village into a supermarket and allowed audience members to enter only if they had a shopping cart. Only one product was available on the shelves, however -- a mysterious container that eventually turned out to be filled with earth from Monticchiello itself. For a drama written and performed by rural amateurs, that's edging into the avant garde.

In Spettacolo, we're told that the tradition is dying. The men and women that founded it are aging -- one has Alzheimer's, another cancer. Andrea Cresti, a bearded intellectual type who started as an actor and now diligently oversees the writing and directing of the performances, can't find anyone willing to replace him.

Malmberg and Shellen follow the creation of one year's play, charting the discussions, the writing, the rehearsals, alongside the languor of daily life and the changes in seasons; for their subjects, creating art feels as vital and as natural as life itself.
Jeff Malmberg, Chris Shellen Andrea Cresti, Chiara Del Ciondolo, Gianna Fiore Grasshopper Films

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