Roberto Ando’s La stranezza (The Strangeness) recontextualizes the story of real-life playwright Luigi Pirandello and his landmark Six Characters in Search of an Author as a statement on storytelling as a means to bring individuals to life, including representation in fiction as well as reincarnation after death.
Set in Girgenti (Agrigento) during the 1920s, Pirandello returns to his native Sicily, shortly after the passing of his childhood wet-nurse Mariastella. The funeral is being run by Bastiano and Nofrio, two gravediggers who, on the side, are staging an amateur play with a cast of friends, family, and local townspeople. Its story tells of upper-class nobility, and a baroness who seeks to reconnect with her late baron through a seance.
At its first performance, to a packed house, a civil servant becomes outraged and interrupts the show, believing the play is about him, and further disruptions break out when an affair between performers comes to light, ceasing the play-action as the actors hash out their real-life confrontations. Reality and fiction blur, as this humble production, with amateur actors giving exaggerated, unpolished performances, which shed away for an explosion of authentic, raw emotion.
After the show, Pirandello invites Bastiano and Nofrio up to Rome, for the premiere of his new play, Six Characters in Search of an Author, itself a metatheatrical work, which opens with the rehearsal of a play, the arrival of its director, then the appearance of new, fictional characters within the text iself, asking to be portrayed. The spontaneous, chaotic performance of the play in Girgenti has inspired a polished, deliberate, and provocative piece in Rome.
Throughout the entire film is the theme of a storyteller’s role, or obligation, to bring people and places to life. A recurring device is Pirandello having visions: of his wet-nurse from beyond the grave, and even the living Bastiano and Nofrio, appealing to him, spurning thought and inspiration as a writer. He is also followed by a mysterious group that only he sees, who, by the end of the film, are revealed to be the Six Characters in search of their author: Pirandello.
Creating a longer lifespan for these characters, whether real or imaginary, is paired with another recurring device: death, starting from the funeral of Maristella, with Bastiano and Nofrio’s day job as gravediggers, through to the seance their fictional characters perform. A seance, to summon forth someone who’s passed, is a similar function to what the storyteller does: giving the subject, in this case the departed, a time and impact greater, and longer-lasting, than their mortal limitations.
The two lead characters, Bastiano and Nofrio, are likable as two scrappy gravediggers-turned-creatives, and the troupe of theater players has a charming camaraderie. Where the film falls a bit short is going deeper into metatheatre & metafiction. Its view goes as far as the inspiration that sparked a singular work, but doesn’t strive to approach the form itself, why it matters, or what Pirandello is trying to say, and achieve, through this radical form of storytelling. The script’s commentary on stories bringing life, and visibility to others, could apply to any form of theater, or any medium of storytelling; but if modern metatheatre is what this film focuses on, what is the deeper thematic implication – beyond the origin story of a play?
La stranezza is an interesting take on storytelling and its role in giving or extending life, but its area of focus, metatheatre, ultimately feels like an arbitrary choice, without the thematic weight worthy of its subject matter.
La stranezza was a winner at the 2023 David di Donatello awards. Check out the full nominations list here!