"A brilliantly embedded, gently embellished documentary of sorts, and one whose bedding is itself a matter of documentaristic embellishment," writes
takes you deep inside the harrowing history and heartbreaking present tense of a gem-like hilltop paesino in Tuscany — Monticchiello, population 136.
"Not quite a regional locality with the touristic draw of Florence, Siena, Pisa or Arezzo, tiny Monticchiello has nonetheless a particular claim to artistic fame, that of the rigidly town-centric autodramma. This translates roughly as 'self-drama' or 'drama of the self,' and it was born out of the village's profoundly self-reflective practices of 'poor theater,' teatro povero, in which the townspeople themselves, as the actors and collaborative authors, allow their own lives to be 'transformed into a spectacle.'" To read more of D'Agostino's article,
"When American husband-and-wife filmmakers Jeff Malmberg and Chris Shellen arrive in the cobblestoned village, Monticchiello's thespians face two problems," recounts
. "Interest in the annual outdoor pageant is dwindling as longtime stalwarts become ill or die, or reject the plays' political messages, while younger people mostly decline to take the veterans' places. Also, the only available subject seems to be what one resident describes as Italy's 'never-ending' economic crisis.
"The fiscal dilemma, this engaging documentary gradually reveals, is a mix of specifically Italian political corruption and the global rise of the class termed 'the one percent.' Tuscany is home to many of these plutocrats, who arrive from throughout the affluent world to convert former farmhouses into vacation 'villas.' But they live elsewhere for most of the year, and an attempt to build affordable housing for longtime residents sits abandoned at the bottom of Monticchiello's hillock.
"Finally, the play makers decide to dramatize nothing less than "the end of the world." The bits of workshopping, rehearsal, and performance we see indicate that the earth will be destroyed not by fire or ice, but by bankers. That satirical appraisal is ratified by a real-life event during the play's preparations. The development is both telling and the funniest thing in the movie." To read more of Jenkins' article,
"It was an honor to be the first filmmakers to record Teatro Povero di Monticchiello's process from beginning to end," say co-directors Malmberg and Shellen. Fifty years of self-examination have given the villagers an unusual perspective on their world and, fortunately for us, enough curiosity and humor to open their lives up to two Americans with film equipment. For us the film was a chance to learn from a town of people who have chosen to make art the center of their lives – through a very unique theatrical experiment.
"The theater's process of 'autodrama' doesn't follow a schedule, so we moved into the center of town, learned Italian, and tried to emulate the theatreʼs process. We listened, translated what we observed into a portrait, and then presented that portrait back to the villagers for their thoughts. The experience was utterly unique.
"We started the process as the ultimate outsiders – two people from Los Angeles who barely spoke a word of Italian when we arrived. But gradually, we began to realize how connected our stories are, and how many of Monticchiello's fears and experiences we all share. Five years later, this film has become a collaboration with a group of people we both admire and love."