Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit viff.org and follow VIFF on Twitter at @viffest.
Dedicated to Tommaso Cestrone, a late Campanian shepherd renowned for single-handedly saving the Golden Palace from extinction, Lost and Beautiful is a well-shot episodic art film with certain documentary tendencies. Though a fiction which utilizes fantasy and a great deal of artifice, the film uses such qualities in an attempt to get closer to authenticity—to truth. Reminiscent of Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar, the primary character of Lost and Beautiful is an animal, a buffalo raised by Cestrone himself before being passed along to a friend, Pulcinella (Sergio Vitolo), after his death. Named in reference to the cultural character who dons a mask, our Pulcinella also dons such a mask, one which magically bestows him the power to listen and speak to the buffalo, Sarchiapone (voiced by Elio Germano) who has much to say about his life of suffering, loneliness, and ennui. His thoughts are later manifested in voice over narration.
The film’s entire sense of authenticity relies on this magically realistic trick of allowing the buffalo to speak for himself. Unlike Bresson’s donkey, who is understood by way of how he is treated by others, viewers come to understand Sarchiapone through personal exposition. Frankly, this is ridiculous, and the film’s major flaw. Sarchiapone is not a person, and treating him as such is irrational, not empathic. What makes Balthazar so relatable are his animalistic emotions which are palpably seen on screen. He is not a sophisticated bourgeois man in a donkey costume; he is a tired, suffering donkey enslaved by the humans who take him captive. Sarchiapone, however, is a sophisticated Italian man in a costume, speaking articulately about his psychological state. This over-personification of the buffalo perhaps does serve to humanize him, if that were the intention, but it does not make much sense given he is not a human to begin with.
If it weren’t for the gorgeously rendered visuals of the film, Lost and Beautiful would frankly have nothing to offer. It chronicles man and buffalo walking around while pretentious dialogue unbelievably carries on the farcical, farfetch’d fantasy. Seemingly shot in 16mm, Lost and Beautiful is exquisite, with many arresting images throughout its duration, particularly in the final sequence. This is not enough, however, as the meandering narrative only finds thematic grounding through an unbelievable, convoluted premise. The overt design of having the buffalo speak takes away the beauty and magnificence and tragedy of his life. While the animal must have felt human-like fear and pain, it is nonsense to have him eloquently speak about this. Watching him vainly attempt to wriggle away from his slaughterers is more than enough. Since Lost and Beautiful goes the other route, however, it hands over any sense of subtlety or visual aptitude in exchange for a momentary intrigue of the imagination.
Lost and Beautiful is exquisite, with many arresting images throughout its duration, particularly in the final sequence. This is not enough, however, as the meandering narrative only finds thematic grounding through an unbelievable, convoluted premise.