By José Sarmiento Hinojosa
When thinking about such eccentric definitions of a genre like “experimental sci-fi spaghetti cowboy electro dance films” probably nothing will come to mind except the last work of Italian prodigy Davide Manuli. The Legend of Kaspar Hauser opens with a mysterious character (The Pusher) receiving the visit of some alien ships (a fantastic scene scored by the stimulating electro music of Vitalic), which will proceed to deliver young Kaspar Hauser into the desert. Kaspar is then rescued by the town’s sheriff (Vincent Gallo playing a delirious double role in this film), who will eventually teach him the secret language of dance.
This retelling of the story previously brought to the screen by Herzog is unique in its approach, and the new elements which Manuli brings to an old tale mean that it’s inevitable to draw some comparisons betweeen the two films: In Herzog’s movie what was central was the recreation of the old legend of this «educated savage» who strived to perceive life as «normal» individuals did. Herzog showed Hauser’s unique perception of the most common and trivial things in life, the deep emotional impact they had on him and the final terrible outcome which would almost inevitably come. Herzog’s story (as with most of his best films) deals with human alienation from the point of view of these strange characters who would eventually uncover more from mankind’s obsessions, weaknesses and tribulations than a regular man could ever do (Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo, Woyzeck, Strozek, Cobra Verde, etc.)
Manuli, who has been deeply involved with dance music since his first experimental works, seems to be more worried about expressing this dance culture as a basic element of this deliberately obscure film. Kaspar Hauser (Silvia Calderoni), is sort of a messianic presence from the outer world who has come to put in danger the ruling of the Sardinian Duchess (Claudia Gerini), who immediately tries to put an end to him. Through dance moves, and DJ expertise, the Sheriff will guide Hauser into his final destiny.
The rephrasing of the internal concept which deals with Kaspar Hauser symbolic presence in the film almost instantly reconfigures the architecture of Manuli’s new narrative for this old tale (a thing which Galician filmmaker Alberto García would proceed to do afterwards with his own retelling of the story). It’s not the first time Manuli has dealt with dance , and dance music. In fact, he has being doing so since his very first experimental shorts (the 8mm shorts Mental Masturbation, «Oh Peggy oh, Peggy Ye Ye») to his last feature films (Girotondo, Giro Attorno al Mondo – 1998 , Beket – 2008) all of which remain cult classics by a man who decided to introduce the liberalization of the body and the absurdist tale as the main elements of his work. But in fact, never has the dance element worked so well in the context of his films than here in Kaspar Hauser: A full turn of events makes Hauser not an uneducated savage, but a messiah with undiscovered powers who puts the logical order of the world in danger. If Herzog’s tale showed this character as a victim of the world’s cruelty towards someone who was different, here Manuli gives his character a sort of powerful naiveté which helps him confront the status quo of his surroundings. Kaspar then, becomes a «modifier» and not a «victim». In all its absurdity, the tale works perfectly for Manuli’s intent.
La Leggenda di Kaspar Hauser featured in our Desistfilm top films of 2012 list, and how could it not? It’s so rarely that we have the pleasure to uncover such a fresh, distinct approach to cinema. Manuli is yet an underground cult filmmaker to be discovered in his entirety. And who knows, maybe with his new spaghetti western featuring filmmaker Abel Ferrara, which is in production, he will finally get the much needed recognition he deserves.
Director: Davide Manuli
Producer: Alessandro Bonifazi, Bruno Tribbioli, Davide Manuli
Script: Davide Manuli
Cinematography: Tarek Ben Abdallah
Cast: Vincent Gallo, Claudia Gerini, Silvia Calderoni, Elisa Sednaoui, Fabrizio Gifuni