Frightfest Glasgow: Freaks Out (2022)

Director: Gabriele Mainetti

Running Time: 141 Minutes

Starring: Claudio Santamaria, Aurora Giovinazzo, Pietro Castellitto, Giancarlo Martini, Giorgio Tirabassi, Max Mazzotta, Franz Rogowski, Francesca Anna Bellucci

Rome, 1943. Ringmaster Israel (Giorgio Tirabassi) runs the Mezza Piotta Circus, a place "where imagination becomes reality, and nothing is as it seems". Writer/director Gabriele Mainetti opens his film in an attention-grabbing manner, capturing a glorious sense of wonder as the performers showcase their incredible abilities, before that wonder is shattered by the outbreak of war unfolding in unflinching detail.

With their place of work destroyed, the circus performers are tempted to join the Nazi-run Berlin Zircus, while Israel wishes to flee to America. The ringmaster fears being a Jewish man within Nazi-occupied territory, and though his performers worry about making a living, they support each other. Israel brought them together after their birth families cast them out, and despite being prone to disagreements, they're a believable familial unit worth investing in.

Running the Berlin Zircus is Franz (Franz Rogowski), a drug-addled six-fingered pianist with future-sight. He uses this to perform piano covers of contemporary tunes, and seeks to change the future he's witnessed involving Hitler's downfall. Treated as a joke by his fellow officers, including his Lieutenant brother, he channels that into a desire to prove himself through committing horrific acts.

Drawing on superheroics, particularly the X-Men, Mainetti crafts an imaginative tale of a fantastical makeshift family fighting for survival within the perils of war. There are places where the story drags and characters make frustrating decisions, while rarely hitting unexpected beats, although the film remains a tremendous romp offering great fun in circus performers fighting fascists.

Freaks Out played at Frightfest Glasgow