REVIEW: Freaks Out (2021)

dir. Gabriele Mainetti

Early on in Freaks Out, director Gabriele Mainetti’s fascinating sophomore effort, we witness a circus in full swing, the camera dancing between each act exhibiting their ‘powers’. Mainetti takes time to show the awe and wonder these performers inspire: all of which is interrupted by the reality of war as the circus finds itself in the midst of shelling, the camerawork becoming a frantic swirl of chaos and despair.

Focus soon shifts to big-top performers Cencio (Pietro Castellitto), Fulvio (Claudio Santamaria), Mario (Giancarlo Martini) and Matilde (Aurora Giovinazzo), a quartet of outcasts who have become a makeshift family under the watchful eye of their manager. However when he disappears their journey brings them closer to the clutches of Franz (Franz Rogowski), a Nazi who believes they may tip the war in the Reich’s favour.

Awash with ideas and with moments of profound beauty, Mainetti’s film boasts a melancholic tone seasoned with hope. Anchored by an ensemble of delicate performances, Giovinazzo’s Matilde stands out, becoming the film’s heart and adding warmth to an admirably complicated role. It’s a shame then that the nuance of some characters doesn’t transfer to the portrayal of the Nazis, even with the accomplished screen presence of Rogowski (Victoria; Transit): with such a fascinating moral ambiguity to other key players one almost wishes this had bled over to Rogowski’s more monstrous villain.

Arguably more successful in its quieter, more soulful moments – when the full weight of circumstances bares down – superhero tropes are nevertheless weaved in to good, pulpy effect. The result is a beguiling, complex mix of real world historical trauma and the kind of sci-fi fantasy that has defined blockbusters for the past decade. Freaks Out may not be successful in finding an equilibrium between these components, but – with technical prowess married to some beautiful performances – it remains gloriously ambitious.


Russell Bailey

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