A sentient buffalo, a foolish servant sent across time and a shepherd whose days are numbered become mythical figures in Marcello’s magical realist docu-tale that features ravishing images of bucolic Italy, though the film rarely resonates in a deeper way than imagined.
Dir. Pietro Marcello
2015 | Italy | Drama, Fantasy, Documentary | 88 min | 1.66:1 | Italian
PG (passed clean)
Cast: Tommaso Cestrone, Sergio Vitolo, Gesuino Pittalis
Plot: Pulcinella, a foolish servant, is sent to present-day Campania to grant the last wish of shepherd Tommaso: he must rescue a young buffalo called Sarchiapone. In the Royal Palace of Carditello, the ruins of which were once looked after by Tommaso, Pulcinella finds the buffalo and leads him North.
Awards: Won Prize of the Ecumenical Jury – Special Mention, Junior Jury Award & Nom. for Golden Leopard (Locarno)
International Sales: The Match Factory
Subject Matter: Moderate – Myths & Stories; Magical Realism
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse
Pietro Marcello, an Italian filmmaker who made his breakthrough with Martin Eden (2019), which won Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival, is no stranger to producing films with a strong visual style.
His penchant for striking cinematography is already well-evident in Lost and Beautiful, a piece he made prior to Martin Eden. It is, in fact, an even more ravishing film to behold visually, though narratively it remains elusive and rarely resonating.
Eschewing a more straightforward personal-political journey that defined Martin Eden for a somewhat more liberating take on myths in bucolic Italy, Lost and Beautiful flaunts its arthouse underpinnings with a story featuring a real-life shepherd (who apparently passed on halfway through the shoot), a foolish servant sent across time to present Italy, and intriguingly, a sentient buffalo whose thoughts we hear in sporadic voiceovers.
“I want to see it live, but no one understands that.”
This would make a good companion piece to the recently released Polish Oscar-nominated film, Eo (2022), which is no less surreal, and whose donkey at its center is also no less humanised. Marcello’s magical realist docu-tale shows us an Italy caught up with the ills of present-day politics, but mostly, it acts as a counterpoint.
The ‘lost and beautiful’ here refers as much to the natural landscape of rocks, fields, caves, etc., as it is to the Royal Palace of Carditello, which used to belong to the Neapolitan Bourbon Monarchy in the 18th century.
The late shepherd mentioned earlier had been the unofficial guardian who left behind his buffalo friend. It follows that the foolish servant takes the loyal buffalo on a journey to avoid being slaughtered for meat.
I think you can tell Lost and Beautiful can be a meandering work, and truth be told, I sometimes wished it could be more compelling. But it is impossible to deny the poeticism, and occasional spiritualism, embedded in the film.