Appellate Judge James A. Stewart warns viewers not to get Kaos mixed up with the new Get Smart movie.
"Therefore I am son of chaos, and not allegorically, but in true reality, because I was born in our countryside, located near entangled woods, named Cavusu by the inhabitants of Girgenti: a dialectical corruption of the genuine and antique Greek term kàos."—Luigi Pirandello
The first time I set out to tackle this epic anthology of Luigi Pirandello short stories, I gave up before I started and put it back in the case. The DVD cover had indicated a runtime of 105 minutes, but the number on the disc itself was 188 minutes—a much larger commitment of mental energy. Three hours? With subtitles? Aaaargh! I decided to watch The New Maverick that night and come back to Kaos later.
When I did return to Kaos, I found a movie that, while a little much for one sitting, has a lot going for it. If you've already been introduced to the Taviani brothers, co-directors Paulo and Vittorio, you might want to take a look.
The stories are drawn from novellas in Pirandello's Novelle per un anno. The 1934 Nobel winner for literature released 15 volumes of Novelle between 1922 and 1937, according to the Nobel Prize organization's site. Pirandello was a prolific writer and playwright. The first film adaptation of his work came in 1919, and "The Jar," one of the stories here, was adapted in 1937 for BBC television (which broadcast his "The Man with the Flower in his Mouth" as its debut drama in 1930).
Facts of the Case
A group of men pelts a male crow with the eggs the bird was sitting on—until one of them lets the bird free, with a bell tied around its neck for "music." The crow flies high above five scenes of Kaos, four from Luigi Pirandello short stories and one that's supposedly a biography of the writer:
• "First Tale: The Other Son"—A mother (Margarita Lozano) longs to send a letter to her two sons in America, gone for many years, but won't speak to the son who's still in Sicily. Therein lies a tale of banditry and violence.
• "Second Tale: Moonsickness"—On the night of the full moon, a new bride (Enrica Maria Modugno) learns of her husband's "moonsickness." When the next full moon rolls around, she's seeking protection—and love—from the man (Claudio Bigagli) she almost married.
• "Third Tale: The Jar"—A cruel, rich landowner (Ciccio Ingrassia, Amarcord) has a massive jar built to hold olive oil. When it's broken, he hires a hunchbacked potter (Franco Franchi) to fix it. The potter is trapped inside, and the landowner doesn't want to break the jar to let him out.
• "Fourth Tale: Requiem"—The Baron (Pasquale Spadola) doesn't want the people who farm his land to bury their dead there. When the founder of their village grows close to death, they protest.
• "Epilogue: Dialogue with the Mother"—Luigi Pirandello (Omero Antonutti, The Night of the Shooting Stars) arrives at his family home for a conversation with his late mother.
The booklet accompanying the DVD says Kaos was shown over multiple nights on Italian TV. That's not a bad idea, since 188 minutes without a break can be fatiguing.
The four stories featured (not counting the opening scene, from Luigi Pirandello's "The Crow of Mizzaro") take on a variety of tones. The opener, "The Other Son," is a dramatic tale as a woman is forced to come to terms with a traumatic event; it could also make you flinch, since you'll see bandits playing ball with her husband's head. "Moonsickness" may sound like a Twilight Zone entry, but it works its magic with suggestion. "The Jar" is a comic tale of the battle of wits between the landowner and the potter. "Requiem" makes the conflict between the village founder and the Baron into a tale of the village, not the two men; it echoes the tone of the Tavianis' The Night of the Shooting Stars, also released recently.
The Tavianis are fond of shots that distance the action from the viewer, often showing the far-off action in a small part of the screen and making the actors seem small against the Sicilian scenery. However, the first three stories managed to create an intimate quality and have strong dramatic impact, thanks to acting that comes through across the language barrier.
In "The Other Son," Margarita Lozano cuts a proud figure as a mother who seems mad to the travelers who mock her as she deals with the fear of rejection by her sons and a constant reminder of her husband's murder.
The viewer never sees Claudio Bigagli turn into a werewolf in "Moonsickness," and it seems quite likely that his lonely farmer is mad. Bigagli still creates a sympathetic figure, alternately tortured when his new bride leaves after seeing a bout of "moonsickness" and kind as he hosts a dinner for his wife's former love before the moon madness takes hold. He also makes the situation convincing enough to let viewers suspend disbelief, even though we never see the usual hair sprouting all over his face. Enrica Maria Modugno is sympathetic as the bride who at first fears and loathes her moonsick husband, but eventually comes to care for him.
"The Jar" is the comic relief of Kaos, showcasing comedians Ciccio Ingrassia and Franco Franchi. Ingrassia plays a rich man who doesn't like people much (he complains that poor people live just as long as the rich), but talks sweetly to his beloved jar ("My poor jar. What have they done to you?…Had I not left you alone, you would still be healthy"). Franchi, as the hunchbacked potter, doesn't seem that bright (it's obvious he's going to get trapped in the jar from the start), but turns out to be quite clever.
"Requiem" has some interesting absurd moments as the village father readies his grave while still alive, but it's not as strong as the other stories here. Even less impressive is "Dialogue with the Mother," which sends Pirandello back to his roots. After four fairly strong tales, it's a weak note on which to end the anthology.
Kaos is 25 years old; at times, the print looks weathered and scratched. The sound came through reasonably well, with wind and other ambient noises emphasizing an often bleak landscape.
As far as extras go, there's a booklet with an essay on the film. I would have liked more biographical information on Pirandello, but otherwise I'm satisfied.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There's nothing too symbolic or hard to understand here, but Kaos is just plain long. I was thinking of how much better it would be if the opening vignette and the "Dialogue with the Mother" were just axed. You could chalk up my dissatisfaction with the latter to reviewer's fatigue, though.
If you've got a few encounters with subtitles under your belt, Kaos will seem simple, but set aside a couple of nights to take it in, preferably nights without a full moon. If you're not familiar with the work of the Taviani brothers or the conventions of foreign films, you'd be better off starting with The Night of the Shooting Stars, a moving tale of a village's battle for survival during World War II.
Every once in a while, the crow flies in the direction of an interesting yarn or three. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Lorber
• Booklet by Film Expert Peter Bondanella
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