Comedic playwright and actor Eduardo Scarpetta (Toni Servillo) has women and audiences at his feet. He is hooked on the attention and reluctant to share, to the point that even his offspring have to follow his footsteps in the roles he has written for them.

Upon seeing the success of Gabriele D’Annunzio’s drama The Daughter of Iorio, Scarpetta decides to write a parody. Not only is his Son of Iorio booed offstage, but an infamous legal battle over intellectual property ensues between the two writers.

What Léa Seydoux was to this year’s Cannes festival, Servillo is to Venice. After The Hand of God and The Inner Cage, The King of Laughter is the third film in selection starring the Italian virtuoso. The latter is the perfect framework for the actor to shine, giving him ample opportunity to demonstrate his potency and charisma, as well as his comedic timing.

It is not an easy task to create a character that the audience will despise in every private scenario, yet cheer for in court. The subject is the embodiment of a patriarch, and it is refreshing to see writer-director Mario Martone not waste any time with faux glamour, or lacing his period piece with wistful nostalgia.

Another impressive coup with regards to casting is that a scion of the real Scarpetta is part of the ensemble: actor Eduardo Scarpetta plays his own great-grandfather.

This feature is an entertaining entry into the Competition for the Golden Lion, but – speaking of lions, who have one dominant male per pride – Scapetta’s virility is portrayed just a touch excessively. The fact that every other character to appear on screen is one of the comedian’s illegitimate children deflects from much more interesting plot points. There is a substantial scene, for example, in which Scarpetta stumbles into a lively dinner, but as he sits down to join, everyone is so intimidated by him that they fall into uncomfortable silence.

The King of Laughter is an equitable biopic which, despite its title, does not adorn any historical figure with false laurels.

★★★☆☆

Selina Sondermann

The King of Laughter (Qui rido io) does not have a UK release date yet.

For further information about the event visit the Venice Film Festival website here.

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