Freaks Out: the cinema lesson from Italy

Americans don’t have a monopoly on superpowers. And fortunately. In comics, works such as the Chimerical Brigade from Serge Lehman and Gess come to remind us that Europe developed an abundant imagination before the Second World War, and that the first superheroes came from the old continent. In the cinema, many directors, French or European, have also taken up the theme of superpowers and, much more free than the performers of a huge Hollywood studio, can breathe a breath of fresh air into the register. It’s a cinema that deserves as much, if not more, to be talked about for what it brings to pop culture, and that’s how we want to talk about it even if it’s not no adaptations of comics as such. How I became a superhero Where Innocents are part of it, and today it is high time to come back to Panicthe new movie of Gabrielle Mainetti. Because this is very great cinema.

Del Toro’s X-Men

Already in 2015, Mainetti showed us what Italian cinema was capable of doing on the question of powers and responsibilities by choosing to focus on a thug who obtained superpowers by falling into the Tiber, and the quest for a completely crazy to do the same in the superb We call him Jeeg Robot. Seven years later, the second feature film by the Italian director reaches us in France (thanks to the good care of Metropolitan films); if the superpowers are also always present, the setting of the story changes radically. We go to the past, to a Rome under Nazi occupation in which a circus troupe is trying to flee the country to go to the United States. But when Israelthe owner of the circus, disappears while going to look for a smuggler, the troop made up of Matilda, Cencio, fulvian and mario must go looking for him, or adjust to what their new life in Rome might be like. Because the great Circus of Berlin is installed on the spot, and it is said that there is work there…


We would simply be tempted to tell you that given the current landscape of films dealing with superpowers, and particularly after the new affront of Sony Picturesthat he should just go see Panic to remember all that can be done when you have a minimum of freedom and creativity. If the movie Mainetti is not perfect, it overflows with imagination and discoveries, whether purely technical and visual or in the illustration of certain concepts. The introductory scene will immediately set the tone for you: the film opens with a long sequence shot, during which the five main protagonists are presented to us, as well as their power. Thus, the bushy fulvian (Claudio Santamariawho was already accompanying Mainetti in Check the bot) is gifted with super-strength; the electric Matilda (Aurora Giovinazzo) passes currents through his skin and can therefore light a light bulb by touch – which is not without some daily problems with respect to contact with others; the cheeky Cencio (Pietro Castellitowith a crazy look that is reminiscent of the brilliant Luca Marinelli) is able to command all surrounding insects; while the rogue mario (Giancarlo Martini) attracts all metals to itself. This beautiful demonstration of powers, virtuoso in the image and enchanting, is brutally interrupted by the cruel reminder of the historical situation of the film. We go from dream to nightmare suddenly, Panic immediately setting the tone. No family or good-natured production on the horizon: Nazism is wreaking havoc, war is no fun, and it will really be a question of survival for our heroes.


With the disappearance ofIsraelthe plot will very quickly focus on a central place, the Circus Berlin who settled in the heart of the city. This is where the demonic is installed Francisanother Monster endowed with six fingers on each hand, and who has come to hate all “abnormal” people like him. Also endowed with visions of the future, he is convinced that he will be able to form a small army of “monsters” (in a way x-men, Doom Patrol Where suicide squad) who will obtain the favors of the chief. A pathetic character wonderfully portrayed by Francois Rogowskiwhose light hair on the tongue amplifies, curiously, the dangerousness of the character. No complacency with fascism: if the character of Francis has his motives and is presented as having a part of humanity (he has a wife, whom he loves), there is never any ambiguity about the stature of his actions. The framework of the circus allows Mainetti to have a great time on the staging, from the main theater to the dungeons that serve as a torture room in the basement. Everything is done so that the sets serve the staging, and the camera twirls around with a certain ease to take us, each time, to the heart of the action, without ever getting bored. The director uses his know-how to offer ideas for framing and directing, at all times, whether the effort is frontal or barely disguised. Without saying too much more, we will admit to you that we were both amused and fascinated by the way in which a huge zizi is used as the central element of a curious painting in a much less amusing context (you will understand when you see the film).


Staging elements that also serve the powers of our heroes. The discourse on the difference of others is necessarily present within the framework of the Nazi occupation – for whom, whether monsters or Jews, there are not too many differences – and even if one suspects that the special effects budget was not the same as that of a Hollywood production, there is not a plan during which we will not believe what we see. Because sometimes all it takes is a bit of inventiveness, which doesn’t require much, to offset the economy. As if to illustrate the powers of divination of Francis who, therefore, can see into the future. And in his shows, enjoys playing the piano, to an audience of the 1940s, pop hits from the 2000s – a truly fascinating scene, which we also suggest you find in the video below, and which perfectly illustrate all the ideas that Mainetti sets up in his film. A touch of madness which would also be reminiscent of the cinema of a of the bull – a referent who never does task, you will agree.

Panic is carried by its characters. Beyond the demonstration of their abilities, which evolve with the film and are also at the center of some pretty visual finds, it is the actors and actresses who impress. The young Matildacentral figure, plays with accuracy a whole range of emotions and although her narrative arc remains fairly classic, we like to see her evolve and position herself on the question of the use of violence in the context where the enemy never hesitates to strike down his opponent. The character of mario brings a touch of comedy (notably because, we don’t know why, he seems afflicted with an addiction to masturbation, and it’s this kind of oddity that also reminds us that we are in a cinema that is freed from a lot of things that others do not allow themselves). Cencio also brings a bit of lightness, while fulvian is the one who will occupy the second most important role, his actor brimming with charisma under the makeup. Although your editor will admit to not being an expert on the Italian game despite his own origins, from his point of view, everything hits the mark. In the darkest scenes as well as in the funniest moments. We also repeat that Francis remains a brilliant villain character in his pathos and portrayal, but the supporting cast is no slouch – especially a hunchbacked Italian resistance fighter played by Max Mazzottatrue copy of Vincent Cassel in Sheitan and absolutely delirious.


We were already talking about the adult content of the film: Mainetti knows how to be generous in a film that is sometimes raw (even on the sexual level) and quite violent, which plays on several tables. On the one hand, with a form of realistic violence to recall the horrors of war; on the other, a more cathartic and pleasurable violence, which will make it possible to show Nazis having their faces properly dislocated throughout the film. To see in 2022, with the context that we know, it must be recognized that seeing a director attacking the past of his own country so head-on while echoing a much more modern reality has something fundamentally enjoyable about it. Also, because there will also be plenty of good ideas in the clashes. If only for a last part which suffers from rough editing and a clear lack of readability, one would be tempted to say that Panic is at the highest level from start to finish. But die-hard cinema and technology fans will obviously have things to say about the messy, but happily messy climax.


This generosity is also found in the decorations, with a superbly represented Rome, a Berlin Circus also imposing in its construction, and a Mainetti which uses all the iconography of the Third Reich to transform the flags, swastikas, German eagles and other paraphernalia of Nazi propaganda to constitute imagery that marks. The positioning of the artifices, the choice of framing, of the lights, the whole thing makes you want to pause (but you can’t, in the cinema) to take an interest in the construction of the sets. Ultimately, it is difficult to find anything to complain about for a particularly entertaining genre cinema, pleasing both visually and in terms of its ideas (except perhaps for a badly conducted romance that raises questions in view of the supposed age of the characters involved). Mostly, Panic is so screaming of inventiveness and love of the seventh art that it becomes incomprehensible that this kind of film does not reach more people, or does not find more critical echo. Yet it is this kind of artistic proposal for which this medium exists, and for which the public can be led to dream, tremble, laugh, and be passionate about superpowers. It’s not so much that we have to make a comparison to adaptations of American comics, which sometimes also have their qualities (we always say it when we think that’s the case), but Gabrielle Mainetti is a craftsman of the image and has a lot to offer with his cinema: it is a performance to salute, but also to support. By going to theaters.

After The Innocents, Freaks Out shows us once again with mastery how much European cinema knows how to bring to life the imagination linked to superpowers. Freaks Out is a devil of inventiveness, which seeks to surprise its spectator from start to finish with its staging, to move them with its characters, and to make them jubilant with its freedom of tone and its cathartic violence. If only for a finale too messy to be ignored, we would like to give the final note as the work of Gabriele Mainetti is to be saluted and encouraged. If you are lucky enough to have a cinema showing Freaks Out near you, do not hesitate: you will have few opportunities to have such a moment of cinema on the big screen.

Leave a Comment