Three extraordinarily gifted men (Cencio, Fulvio and Mario) and a teenage girl (Matilde, played by Aurora Giovinazzo) work for Israel’s circus in Rome, when it is destroyed in a bomb attack. World War II has reached Italian soil, so the artists decide to scrape together everything they’ve earned in order to flee to America. But the visionary ringmaster of a competing circus, Franz (Franz Rogowski) – who indeed has visions of the future, fuelled by ether – has different plans for the so-called “freaks”.

Director Gabriele Mainetti’s second feature is a high-budget, guns-blazing production, the likes of which are a great rarity in recent Italian film history. The visual effects are dazzling, the atmospheric cinematography is masterful; but in the tradition of the Marvel franchise Freaks Out seeks to emulate, it once again proves that very little can make up for a humdrum script. 

The attempt at empowering the misfit protagonists founders on their caricatural portrayal (Matilde being the sole exception, as much of her character’s backstory and internal conflict is borrowed from X-Men’s Rogue). Aurora Giovinazzo’s soulful performance is the undisputed highlight of this flamboyant spectacle. Considering the actress was only 14 years old when production commenced, the love story between Matilde and Cencio feels even more misguided than is textually apparent- Cencio’s age is not mentioned but the actors’ age difference is a little over 10 years.

Franz Rogowski’s antagonist may perhaps be the most interesting character: a six-fingered piano player, who, rejected by his Nazi family, is now destroying himself in his desperate quest to belong. However he, too, is given lacklustre lines that merely fit the mould of the stereotypically evil German – because a three-dimensional villain might confuse the audience? 

The main problem with Freaks Out lies in the fact that it has the simplistic plot of a children’s movie but enough violence and bizarre sexual elements (for instance, Mario, the troupe’s clown, masturbates compulsively), to exceed the average action flick.

★★☆☆☆

Selina Sondermann

Freaks Out 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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