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THE CAMELS

Italy, 1988 (MIFF 1990, Spotlight Bertolucci)

Director: Giuseppe Bertolucci

Typical of Giuseppe Bertolucci's best previous efforts (An Italian Woman, Secrets, Secrets) this quirky modern fable exudes an idiosyncratic, offbeat charm. The scenario, which features a pleasing amount of witty, sparkling dialogue, seems to comprise two separate parts.

Our pintsize hero is Ferruccio Ferri (played by popular up and coming comic actor Paolo Rossi), an expert on anything and everything to do with camels. Ferruccio's knowledge of dromedaries, is being successfully demonstrated in the finals of a top-rating TV quiz show.

As his chance at winning the grand jackpot approaches, Ferruccio is dragged through the publicity rounds by small-time showman Camillo (an inventive turn from Diego Abatantuono) who conducts an absurd promotional tour through the Po Valley region, with the star contestant riding a camel.

Camillo's shabby troupe (which includes Sabina Guzzanti as an uproariously bad chanteuse) looks like something out of a Fellini film, with even wackier situations. Their various shenanigans certainly dominate the first section of the film.

The final sequence, which forms a kind of extended revue skit, takes place when the defeated protagonist boards a train bound for home. Here he meets the beautiful Anna (played by the beautiful Giulia Boschi) who lures Ferruccio into pretending he's been her secret lover and is the father of her unborn child for the purpose of getting rid of her boring fiance. This stretch involves the spirited assistance of Laura Betti and Giancarlo Sbragia as shockable parents in some robustly executed "cine-cabaret".

Cianchetti's amusingly pointed camerawork and Nicola Piovani's Arabic-style music score enhance the warmly observed, humorous tale.

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