The Tale of King Crab

In the late 1800’s in the Tuscan town of Vejano, Luciano’s (Gabriele Silli) fury at The Prince (Enzo Cucchi) for closing off what had long been held as a right of passage becomes tragically entangled with his love for local goatherd Emma (Maria Alexandra Lungu, "The Wonders").  In order to avoid the wrath of her father, Severino (Severino Sperandio), Luciano’s own father helps him slip away to Tierra del Fuego, half a world away in Argentina, where he will become consumed with the search for gold in “The Tale of King Crab.”

Laura's Review: B

Writer/directors Alessio Rigo de Righi and Matteo Zoppis (“Il Solengo”) have been making documentaries based on tales told to them by hunters in Vejano, the same group they use to open this, their fictional feature debut.  Unable to fully track down the tale of Luciano, who is alternatively referred to as crazy, an aristocrat, a drunkard and a saint, they decided to fill in the gaps by weaving their own tale.  The result is like the discovery of a long lost art film from the 1970’s, a homespun bit of magical folklore.

Using mostly local nonprofessionals, the filmmakers made an astute choice casting their artist friend Silli in the lead.  The man looks like a hirsute version of Mel Gibson if depicted as an elongated European wood carving, his height adding to the effect of his outsider status.  Luciano spends his days idly, frustrating his father with his excessive drinking, angering Severino with attentions paid to his daughter.  When she is decked out in flowers and finery and invited by the Prince to celebrate a saint’s day, Luciano’s fury boils over and he sets the disputed gate on fire.  Only we have seen what has happened to Emma and the Etruscan gold necklace given her by her lover at the hands of two of the Prince’s guards.  The second half of the film finds Luciano masquerading as a priest, carry a bucket holding that titular crab which he has been told will lead him to a lake where gold from a shipwreck will be found.  It plays something like a South American period twist on “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” as directed by Werner Herzog.

I’m not sure if there was any digital trickery involved in director of photography Simone D’Arcangelo’s (“Il Solengo”) opening shot, but it is striking, Luciano standing in water, the light dancing upon its surface causing him to sparkle.  As the film comes to its romantic conclusion, we will return here, although it is questionable if Luciano has.

Robin's Review: B

Italy in the present day and a group of old hunters gather to talk about the legendary character Luciano (Gabriele Silli), once the town drunkard. Many, many years ago a feud between him and the local prince ends in a misdeed that lands the boozer in exile to the distant “Land of Fire,” Tierra del Fuego. There, faith and greed lead to the search for hidden treasure in “The Tale of King Crab.”

To the inhabitants of the tiny and remote village of Tuscia, depending on who you talk to, Luciano the legend was a crazy man, an aristocrat, a saint, a drunkard or a murderer. He may be all of these things or none but he is a rebel who is intolerant of those in power, like the prince.

When the prince blocks the gate leading to the traditional path the shepherds use to bring their sheep to graze, Luciano acts at once and destroys the barrier. This leads to an escalating feud over the right of way and it does not end well for the rebel.

Luciano’s self-righteous actions have their consequences and he ends up in exile in a world far, far away, to the previously mentioned southern-most tip of South America. Here the story takes a radical turn as the man assumes the identity of a priest and leads an expedition to find a secret and hidden cache of gold. This is where the titular crab enters the scene, giving the practicality of the treasure hunt a distinct weirdness and a type of insanity that you have to see to appreciate.

“The Tale of the King Crab” is a story of questionable actions and decisions by the lead character who could be thoroughly unlikable. That is, except for his secret love for Emma (Maria Alexandra Lungu), the spirited and independent daughter of shepherd Severino (Severino Sperandio). The dad does not like or approve of her suitor but that does not stop the romance, until Severino intercedes. This makes for a story more nuanced and interesting than just the tale of one man against the system.

This two-chapter tale directed by Alessio Rigo de Right and Matteo Zoppis, both feature film newcomers, is actually two separate stories that could have stood alone. Pairing the before and after stories gives the film an odd dynamic but one that works. Non-actor Gabriele Silli has a striking presence on screen and is the story anchor.

Oscilloscope opens "The Tale of the King Crab" in select theaters on 4/15/22 - click here for playdates.