366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.
Sylvio is currently available for VOD rental or purchase.
DIRECTED BY: Kentucker Audley, Albert Birney
FEATURING: Sylvio Bernardi, Kentucker Audley
PLOT: A gorilla who works for a debt collection agency accidentally stumbles on to a small-town television broadcast, but his shot at fame comes with conditions.
COMMENTS: “Feel good” movies are almost always a dispiriting experience for the weird viewer. Saccharine story lines, all-too-earnest performances, and finales which crash over the viewer on a tide of sweepy-weepy strings. Similarly, hipster comedies with the “quirk” set to eleven exasperate. By subverting these expectations, Sylvio, by and large, succeeds. While the film’s story is a bit by the books (and, admittedly, a touch saccharine), it has an easy charm that carries the story through all the notes required for a “feel good” hipster movie without eliciting eye-rolls from even your jaundiced reviewer, who has endured a panoply low-to-no-budget oddball meanderings.
Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney have made a quiet film about a quiet gorilla—one who reluctantly works at a debt collection agency. Sylvio Bernardi (who plays himself) is a mellow man-beast. He likes soft synth music, has a pet goldfish, and spends his free hours making episodes of “Quiet Times with Herbert Herpels,” a silent puppet vignette series devised, it seems, for an audience of one. Utterly unruthless, he is an awkward fit at his job. But what turns out to be his final collection assignment gives him a chance to live his small dream of telling his stories. Unfortunately, he gains his fame by breaking things on set (accidentally, mind you), and has to work out just what kind of local fame he wants to attain.
Sylvio is a buddy comedy, chronicling the relationship between Sylvio and the local television host, Al Reynolds—a similarly soft-spoken fellow who, as his lack of sponsorship indicates, probably wasn’t made for this time and place. The hook, of course, is that Sylvio is a gorilla: a gorilla whose demeanor flies in the face of his species’ fearsome reputation. Whoever Bernardi is, he plays it straight—without which the whole project would collapse. Everyone else plays it straight, as well. The whole exercise is an examination of TV excitement, à la Bart Simpson’s “I Didn’t Do It” brush with fame on The Simpsons.
It’s a simple story, with enough laughs along the way to justify itself. What tips my view firmly on the favorable side is the quality of the craftsmanship. Sylvio’s own excess efforts are put into the “Quiet Times” experience (these interludes heighten the weird quotient, particularly the dream sequence during which Sylvio meets a real-life Herbert Herpels as a mute spirit guide). Audley and Birney not only make this quiet drollery with commendable competence, but also display a keen eye for framing. In one dramatic scene, the focal points of Herbert resting on the hood of a car, the form of Sylvio digging a grave for his puppet, and a shining moon in the upper right corner of the frame make for an observational experience worthy of any top tier production: Sylvio is on the cusp abandoning his dream, but stops himself. I suspect that Sylvio‘s filmmakers faced countless moments of doubt themselves. But thankfully they stopped themselves from burying this curiosity, and so their own quiet story can be seen by anyone seeking an eccentric, easy-going, and, yes, feel good experience.
Sylvio failed to find a home on video after its release, but the indie success of Strawberry Mansion reignited interest in Birney and Audley’s first feature. It’s now on VOD and will be released on Blu-ray January 31 by Music Box Films.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Curios don’t get much more curious than ‘Sylvio,’ which has the distinction of being both the weirdest, and most affecting, feature ever made starring a man in a monkey suit — or, to be more precise, a man in a monkey suit wearing a monkey suit… It won’t attract more than a niche audience, but a cult following for this bizarro effort seems quite possible.”–Nick Schager, Variety (contemporaneous)