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by Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel

grade: 7.5

The main purpose of Mister Universo, the newest work by Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel, is to transport us for a little less than two hours into a world apart, by making us briefly lose contact with reality and forget everything around us.

Meanwhile, in a remote corner of the world…

The path taken by directors Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel – she from Bolzano, he from Vienna – in their latest film, Mister Universo, has been tried and tested for some time and has immediately proved to be a winning one: this is the third chapter – if we can even talk about chapters – of a trilogy set in the world of the circus, which began with La Pivellina (shot in 2009 and thanks to which the two artists won several international awards), followed by Der Glanz des Tages (2012). What the filmmakers clearly wanted to do was to capture a world that, apparently and sadly, looks like fading away. With large gaps dedicated to magic, esotericism and the most disparate superstitions, counterpointed by a rigorous realism.

Once again – as has already been done in the past – the circus, once again a very personal focus on one of the artists working there. In this Mister Universo it has been the turn of the young Tairo, an animal lover and extremely pragmatic person, with only one “Achilles’ heel”: a piece of iron, which was bent by the strong Arthur Robin, elected Mister Universe in 1957. This precious object has always been a sort of talisman for Tairo, a lucky charm with a high emotional value. And so, its loss will push the boy to travel from Rome to Milan, with several intermediate stages, to find Arthur Robin and get another piece of iron.

A new story, then, and another exciting challenge for the filmmakers, in which magic, together with superstitions of all kinds (particularly regarding the character of Wendy, Tairo’s girlfriend) are the main characters. What, however, most captures the attention in this operation is the singular mise-en-scène, which – precisely because of its form, halfway between a feature film and a documentary – reveals a clear and sincere approach and evident – and very successful – references to Zavattini’s cinema. In fact, Mister Universo – like the other two feature films in the trilogy – looks at first like a full-length documentary, but then we learn that the story – without a real script, but with improvised lines (sometimes – a forgivable flaw of the work – in a not entirely spontaneous way, especially concerning some secondary characters) by non-professional actors in the role of themselves following a sort of ‘plot’ – has been previously written by the authors themselves.

Together with magic, circus plays a fundamental role, a true source of inspiration for filmmakers from all over the world since the origins of cinema. And given that, in this case, the circus settings represent an “out-of-this-world” world that could even vanish in the future, the film acquires a touch of magic and mystery that perfectly matches the extremely realistic mise-en-scène. The circus shown by Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel is never “spectacular” (except, perhaps, for the final scene in which Wendy performs as a contortionist), never Fellini-like, and never disturbing or sinister, as the good old Robert Wiene and Tod Browning taught us. A circus that, however, represents something magical and extremely fragile, ephemeral, almost a fairy-tale dimension in which the characters live. And that can only fascinate, daze and enchant us all.

Original title: MIster Universo
Directed by: Tizza Covi, Rainer Frimmel
Country/year: Austria, Italy / 2016
Running time: 90’
Genre: documentary
Cast: Tairo Caroli, Wendy Weber, Arthur Robin, Lilly Robin
Screenplay: Tizza Covi
Cinematography: Rainer Frimmel
Produced by: Vento Film

Info: Mister Universo’s page on the website of the Tycoon Distribution