Mister Universo Screen 75 of 10 reviews

Mister Universo

2016

Mister Universo Poster
  • The movie is in the fine brushwork. It’s a string of finely rendered domestic vignettes filmed around the circus camp and in a series of Tairo’s house calls... That Covi and Frimmel are working with accustomed performers works very much to the duo’s favor, and their star is a natural, relaxed screen presence with an instinct for embroidering scenes with little bits of business like mocking another performer’s workout barbell reps by doing concentration curls with a puppy.

  • An unfit lion tamer quits his circus and sets out on the road in rural Italy in search of a lost iron amulet, bent by a notorious strongman years before. So goes the wandering premise of Mister Universo—seemingly descended from the stock mythology of Fellini but quite contrarily possessed of its own bracingly modest realism—by Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel, who have crafted a small world from the hard-luck trailer dwellers outside of Rome.

  • An exceptional masterwork of lowly grandeur... Instead of narcissistically inscribing their own story onto their subjects, the filmmakers create a dramatic space where the story comes into being through the emphatic interaction between actors and directors. It is a cinematic practice that refuses not only the illusory distinction between fiction and documentary but most vitally that between life and art.

  • The filmmaking team of Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel concoct fictional narratives around the real lives and professions of the nonactors with whom they work. This is an unusual formula but not an entirely novel one. While other examples of this method, or some variant of it, have yielded films that come off as condescending or creepily exploitative, Ms. Covi and Mr. Frimmel’s “Mister Universo” is a disarming and humane picture, an unexpected delight.

  • Representing a melancholy salute to not just one bygone era but several, Mister Universo was easily the most soothing film I saw at FIFM, the kind of work that's too minor-key to gain major traction within art-house circles, yet too niche to attract attention outside them.

  • The film couples a fondness for fading performance with a lifestyle close to animals of various sorts: Tairo’s affection for his moody, mammoth felines is palpable even as one sympathises with their constricted lives in captivity. Similarly, one memorable scene offers along these non-human lines an aging, talented chimpanzee who worked with Fellini as well as Argento and who is surely working below her usual rate, to good end in this modest but memorable film.

  • There is perhaps more contrivance at work here than in Frimmel and Cozi’s previous films, though that’s partly what makes “Mister Universo” quietly beguiling. What amounts, at a most literal level, to a fairytale premise — a search to recover a missing amulet with supposedly magical powers — stands in witty contrast to the drab contemporary environment it plays out in: an Italy of trailer parks, gray freeways and seemingly perma-damp weather.

  • The film eventually replaces the captivating smallness of everyday life with an inconsequential drama.

  • Tairo meets friendly soul after friendly soul, with each episode composed of the same well-observed blend of reminiscences, meandering chitchat, and photogenic knick-knacks. The warmth of the film stock merges with the unrelenting warmth of the people to such an extent, however, that even the hint of any rough edges is smoothed away and an almost cloying sense of niceness emerges.

  • Tairo’s many stops along the way, each swiftly executed and consisting primarily of subtext-laden small talk, fail to add up to an appreciable narrative. It slowly becomes evident that the filmmakers came up with the film’s structure and intended message first, then tried to fill in the blanks afterwards.

More Links