Review: Italian townspeople stage drama from their lives in charming documentary ‘Spettacolo’

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Theater lovers and Italophiles alike should savor the documentary “Spettacolo,” an engaging and wistful look at the tiny Tuscan village of Monticchielloand its longtime tradition of producing “autodramas,” works crafted by, starring and thematically inspired by its residents.

In “Spettacolo,” which was shot mostly in 2012, filmmakers Jeff Malmberg and Chris Shellen track a year in the making and mounting of Teatro Povero di Monticchiello’s annual production, written and directed by the group’s devoted artistic director and co-founder, Andrea Cresti.

“Spettacolo” (Italian for spectacle or play) paints an intimate portrait of this scenic medieval town (lovingly shot by Malmberg, who also edited) and its largely older citizens, many of whom, unlike the local young folks, remain committed to staging these open-air summer shows.


In addition to commentary from a memorable array of townsfolk, Malmberg and Shellen evocatively insert photos and bits from earlier Teatro Povero shows, including the company’s debut offering that dramatized the village’s 1944 showdown between partisans and Fascists.

Given the changing social and financial forces, are these time- and labor-intensive productions sustainable? That’s one of several big-picture issues examined here as Cresti and company navigate various hurdles to premiere their latest effort, whose potentially prescient theme involves the end of their world. That said, the troupe just celebrated its 50th anniversary.


In Italian with English subtitles

Rating: Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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