What a waste. Davide Manuli’s The Legend of Kaspar Hauser promised to be tits with an awesome trailer and a fucking bonkers synopsis: Manuli imagines Kaspar Hauser as an androgynous rave kid washing up on the shores of a desolate beach town where Vincent Gallo plays two separate roles — Sheriff and Drug Pusher — and the whole thing is scored by Vitalic. Sign me the fuck up, I begged my editor. For those who don’t know, Kaspar Hauser was a young German man called to the military in the 19th century. He claimed to have been raised in total isolation, inside a cell, and had no interaction with society whatsoever. His story was international news, and people both feared and worshiped him. Then he died from a stab wound, and the perpetrator remains a mystery to this day. Werner Herzog’s superior 1974 film, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser is probably the most well-known adaptation of this story. With Manuli’s version, there was talk of a Jodorowsky-meets-Buñuel type of vision, but, with a big fat UNFORTUNATELY, I have to say The Legend of Kaspar Hauser is a flat bore-fest that had me eating two boxes of Sour Patch Watermelons, and leaving the movie at one point to go and buy coffee so I could stay awake for the fucking thing, because even the techno score wasn’t working.
The film opens with an incredible shot of Gallo summoning UFOs over a vast landscape as Vitalic’s electronic score rushes in a warm wave of sound. Then we move to a scene in which Gallo’s Sheriff challenges Gallo’s Drug Pusher to a dance-off or some shit, and they’re both rotating their hips to a slower Vitalic track, and it’s just unfunny and tedious. There’s nothing incidentally ridiculous to any of it: the entire film strains under the fattened mistake of elongating indulgence for indulgence’s sake. (And I’m the last person to shy away from elongating anything [Editor’s note: lol] — fuck, Trash Humpers is one of my favorite films ever made.) But whereas in Korine’s stuff oozes with a frenetic and creative chaos, Manuli’s The Legend of Kaspar Hauser is a forced aesthetic, an embrace of calculated randomness. Joyless boredom made glossy via a pulsating soundtrack.
Kaspar Hauser (Silvia Calderoni) washes ashore, an emaciated androgynous ageless thing wearing gigantic headphones. The Sheriff (Gallo) adopts him as his own and puts him in a cage. A priest (Fabrizio Gifuni), a Duchess (Claudia Gerini), and a Whore (Elisa Sednaoui) come to visit him. Comprised of a series of chapters shot in single takes, the film attempts to create a Bildungsroman out of scattered moments: Hauser rides a donkey; the Sheriff sets up a DJ table on the beach; the Drug Pusher (also played by Gallo) takes the Whore out on his boat; Hauser dances, and dances, and dances. In fact, the majority of the film is simply one long shot of Hauser, topless, rocking his body back and forth to Vitalic. Calderoni’s body is an interesting thing to watch — there’s not an inch of fat on her muscled arms and washboard abs, and her little tits are pointy and almost violent-looking. But a body made grotesque as it pulses to a beat can’t carry us from scene to scene. Manuli seems to be suggesting that with a surreal cinematic backdrop, anything can be interesting, anything can create a story, even ninety minutes of watching someone dance to techno on a beach. If The Legend of Kaspar Hauser weren’t based on an already inherently fascinating story of a pathological liar who fooled an entire society, then maybe it could pass as some vaguely interesting piece of eye candy. But when you’ve got a rich enough backstory and the balls to re-imagine it in such a drastically fucked way, why would you make a boring-ass music video? When we know what’s coming next (more dancing), the possibility of anything being challenged artistically dies a quick death. We’re left with a dead film.