DIRECTED BY: Arthur Patching, Christian Serritiello
FEATURING: Arthur Patching, Christian Serritiello, Carrie Getman, Tomas Spencer, Daniel Brunet, Simone Spinazze, Joulia Strauss
PLOT: A picaresque tour of a town on a remote island where a man leaves his girlfriend on a train and is scorned by an old childhood companion; an Italian speaker leaves his job addressing party guests in the unfamiliar language to attend an art show where a singer sings of anarchy; a getaway driver meets a UFO watcher at a remote hotel; and an artist travels to a remote island to find out what happened to the paintings she submitted to an art show.
COMMENTS: We begin with a man standing on a rocky shore as he stares resolutely into the wild, swirling forces of nature. Finally, he screams, unleashing all his inner turmoil into the void. But we can’t hear anything at all. Whether he is unable to give it voice or it cannot be heard above the din, we cannot be sure. But the scream is silent, doomed.
Gelateria says as much in that first minute as it does in the 60 that follow. Playing out like an extended Monty Python episode that isn’t especially interested in being funny, the film bounces from one set piece to another, with one character or another delivering us to the next sketch like an off-kilter La Ronde. Like that opening vignette, much will be said but very little will be heard.
In some respects, a movie like this is review-proof. If the premise is interesting enough, it can hold your interest for several minutes until it has to bounce to the next one. Consider a scene on a yacht where a wealthy man has paid top dollar for someone to come and speak words that no one can understand. It’s a quirky situation, and the confusion of the speaker is an entertaining contrast with the blissful ignorance of the party guests. When that starts to lag, we can spend a few moments observing how no one even seems to be able to party properly, and we even get one final burst of absurdity when the host sneaks off to scarf down a hot dog. Once the speaker makes his exit, we’ve just about wrung all we can out of this scenario; it’s the perfect time to move on.
And Gelateria, like its namesake, has a variety of flavors for us to sample. Haunted: an early scene where a man contemplates his failing relationship, represented by the camera’s inability to keep his girlfriend in focus. Shocking: a singer exhorts her audience to revolt against the system, then begins shooting members of the uncooperative crowd. Giddily silly: a policeman offers to help a desperate visitor, but only in exchange for her attendance at a play he’s in. The subsequent play is wonderfully unhinged, as it appears to be falling apart right before our very eyes. (“Of course you will eat it,” an actress says of the pasta that is accumulating on the table. “It’s a play. They expect reality.”)
There’s not much reality here, of course, so what are we actually getting from it? It doesn’t have to be about anything, of course, but there’s a preponderance of evidence to suggest that the whole movie is a meditation on artists and their relationships with their patrons and audiences. Nearly everyone is either performing in some way or putting their heart on display for all to see, and the responses – from feigned appreciation to apathy to outright hostility – are not soul-enriching. If the metaphor-for-art explanation appeals to you, I encourage you to peruse David Finkelstein’s more detailed exegesis of the theme, but if that is the right interpretation, then it’s hard not to view the whole enterprise as an exercise in navel-gazing.
You see, possibly the most delightful interlude is a fun little cartoon (animated by Tiago Araújo) which introduces the character we will follow for the remainder of the film: an aspiring painter whose work has vanished as the result of what seems to be a scam. She seems a pitiable sort, but when we meet her in the flesh, she is played alternately by both writers/directors/editors/producers/cinematographers Patching and Seritiello in an inoffensive drag turn that seems to have more to do with giving credence to the closing title card “This film was inspired by true events” than anything. They are the artist, you see. But that means this whole amusing, well-shot motion picture is just a way of telling us how put upon they are as artists. And that kind of ouroboros is clever, but it’s not very fulfilling to watch. It ends up being a hollow pursuit.
All of which is to say: Gelateria is an enjoyable little piece of alt-comedy. It has a strong farcical tone, the premises hit their marks and get out promptly, and everyone really commits to the bit. But the underlying thread of self-pity subtly undercuts the modest successes, making a sweet taste turn sour. Tell it to the wind.
Gelateria is available on Vimeo for the reasonable price of $2 to rent or $5 to own.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Gelateria is a beautifully shot, weird, and truly hell-ride of a film… With personal camerawork seeming to slide in and between the realms of reality and a dreamlike world, you’ll quickly find yourself trapped.” Jordaine Givens, Film Threat
One thought on “CAPSULE: GELATERIA (2019)”
I think I might have liked this a little more than Shane. It is rough and unfinished, more like a sketchbook or work-in-progress than a sampler. The first part roughly follows a Phantom of Liberty structure, and then the second half follows a single story (in vastly different styles). But there is a lot of talent on display here, from the acting to the musical performances. The absurd sketches had more hits than misses for me, and I viewed the whole thing more as a surrealist work that happened to be occasionally funny (often by accident) rather than as a series of comic sketches with a surrealist aesthetic. The self-indulgence of writing about being a struggling, underappreciated artist didn’t bother me–it’s as legitimate a theme as any–but it will limit the appeal. I’d love to see this team stretch to a real, cohesive feature.