Through questions of identity, illusion, and sanity, the works of novelist and dramatist Luigi Pirandello create fertile dreamscapes in which the imagination can flourish—a quality that embeds itself in many of the adaptations that have followed. In honor of the 150th anniversary of Pirandello’s birth, Film Forum will join a city-wide celebration of the artist with a film festival of its own, running through January 19th.
The centerpiece of the series is Kaos (1984), a cinematic adaptation of select Pirandello short stories by noted Italian filmmaking brothers, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani. Operatic in its duration and emotional reach, the film spans just over three hours and is divided into six distinct sections: A prelude, in which we are introduced to a raven turned herald; four short story adaptations (“L’altro figlio” (“The Other Son”), “Mal di luna” (“Moonsickness”), “La giara” (“The Jar”), and “Requiem”); and an epilogue, “Colloquio con la madre” (“Conversing with Mother”), in which Pirandello visits his childhood home, where he conjures his deceased mother.
Filmed in Pirandello’s native land of Sicily, the landscape becomes a unifying theme in the film: White dust sticks to the feet and clothing of every character in the tales, connecting their narratives throughout the film’s disparate moments. The musical raven from the beginning of the film soars between storylines, a symbol of time’s circular quality and cinema’s ability to stitch it into a sequence. And, of course, the people of the land—the focus of both the Taviani brothers and Pirandello’s work—balance the more surreal elements of the stories with an earthiness that is somehow more realistic than the actual ground they stand on. In this way, the film captures the most thrilling aspect of Pirandello’s work—namely, his talent for blurring the fantastical with the routine.
Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1934 for “his bold and ingenious revival of dramatic and scenic art,” Pirandello’s influence can be seen in literature, theater, and beyond. Those familiar with Pirandello through the theater will know very well of his revolutionary tearing down of the stage’s “fourth wall” in his experimental play, Six Characters in Search of an Author, and those who are unfamiliar have probably seen the technique at some point or another. A testament to the evocative quality of Pirandello’s material, the adaptations screening as part of Film Forum’s series are as inventive as the source, a true treat for both fans of Pirandello’s work and those who are coming to it fresh.