By rights I shouldn’t have enjoyed this as much as I did. An absurdist, disjointed film, part comedy and part drama – Gelateria is a uniquely strange experience.
The film starts as it means to go on with the image of a bearded man silently screaming into the distance. It sets the tone nicely for a film that is sometimes disquieting, sometimes funny and always surreal. Our protagonist Zbigniew (played by director Christian Serritiello) is stuck on a train to Zurich in a loveless relationship, so he abandons his girlfriend, gets off the train he’s on, and ends up in a small European coastal town. The rest of the film essentially consists of a series of unrelated vignettes, as Zbigniew tries to find some meaning in his life.
While the British wave of absurdist cinema of the 60s and 70s is a clear influence (especially the films of Richard Lester and Lindsay Anderson), I would be very surprised if Serritiello and co-director Arthur Patching have never seen Roy Andersson‘s incredible Living Trilogy. The tone is very similar as well as the slightly abstract acting styles. At other points it feels like a sketch show, specifically the Armando Iannucci shows, especially the pretentious clique who adore the Italian language and invite a native speaker just to hear him talk, despite not understanding a word he’s saying. The dangerous art exhibition is also really funny, and the amateur dramatics scene at the end of the film has a tangible awkwardness to it that feels incredibly true to life.
The trouble with absurdist, surreal films like this is that if the cast isn’t fully committed the whole thing will fall flat. Thankfully this isn’t the case here, and the entire cast is utterly game for any mad idea that crops up. This is particularly evident in the beat poetry sequence with the pretentious audience serving as a Greek chorus to the singer/poet. It’s a scene that it by turns abrasive, funny and a little unnerving.
The scenes that fall flat at least do so on their own terms, and it may just be personal taste. Some setups are just a little too wacky for me, and it often toes a very delicate line between comedy and drama. The film is most successful as an existential comedy, or a wry, meditative look at how it feels to be unmoored from society and what’s familiar, or to be a stranger in an even stranger town. Even the most overtly comic moments are tinged with a sense of melancholy – much like the fatalism at the heart of Richard Lester‘s The Bed Sitting Room.
Gelateria is beautifully shot throughout, and each tale is told with a distinct and different style, even with an animated segment by Tiago Araujo. The use of sound design is also really interesting and on a technical level, at least, the film is expertly made. There are some scenes that don’t work, but the benefit of a film being a series of vignettes is that even if one doesn’t work, there will be another one along in a minute and thankfully there are just about more sketches that work than don’t. Rarely laugh out loud, Gelateria nevertheless has a charm about it and an audaciousness that you just can’t ignore.
Check out the trailer for Gelateria below, they’re currently hoping to screen the film at upcoming film festivals, find out more….
Cine Pobre Film Festival cinepobre.org/festival/os-xviii-2020/17/
Mostra internazionale del cinema di Genova mostradelcinemagenova.org