(director/writer: Marco Bellocchio; screenwriters: Tonino Guerra/based on the play by Luigi Pirandello; cinematographer: Giuseppe Lanci; editor: Mirco Garrone; music: Astor Piazzolla; cast: Marcello Mastroianni (Enrico IV), Claudia Cardinale (Matilda), Leopoldo Trieste (Psychiatrist), Paolo Bonacelli (Tito Belcredi), Latou Chardons (Young Matilda/Frida); Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Enzo Porcelli; Facets Video; 1984-Italy-in Italian with English subtitles)

“Mastroianni’s brilliant performance is the best reason to see the film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Marco Bellocchio (“Devil in the Flesh”/”The Nanny”/”Fists in the Pocket”) directs a “satirical comedy” on the interactions between reality and illusion, sanity and madness, acting and existing, and identity and disguise. It’s based on the 1922 Luigi Pirandello play. The Henry we’re talking about is the German 11th-century Holy Roman emperor. Marcello Mastroianni stars as a modern aristocrat who is costumed as Henry IV during a medieval pageant celebration and falls off his horse hitting his head. This leads him to believe he’s Henry IV, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. For some twenty years courtiers are hired to keep up the charade by dressing up for their parts and taking the historical names of that time to call each other as they play act with the madman, leaving him to live in his imaginary world as he was at 26. Things suddenly change when some old friends and relatives, a charlatan psychiatrist (Leopoldo Trieste), and his former love Matilda (Claudia Cardinale), now with her new lover a vain baron named Tito Belcredi (Paolo Bonacelli), and the aristocrat’s daughter Frida (Latou Chardons), the spitting image of Matilda at the time of the accident, visit his castle and try to cure him by shocking him out of his madness. The shrink disguises himself as a monk, the king’s advocate to Pope Gregory VII (who ex-communicated Henry), and states that he believes absolution granted will release the madman from his prison-like existence. When the nobleman shows signs of lucidity, the question becomes if he’s been feigning madness all along or is he really a madman. The implications are that the normal folks in society might be the madmen and not those who live in their own fantasy world, as Henry believes he’s actually sane but pretends to live in the Middle Ages in preference to facing the cruelties of the modern world.

Mastroianni’s brilliant performance is the best reason to see the film; the film though is on a slippery course as it plays games with reality. The message delivered is that true madness is about forgetting one’s role in life. This is well and good, but I had the feeling I was attending a lecture on how to look upon the insane and not seeing a great drama.

REVIEWED ON 3/30/2006 GRADE: B-   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”