Life is a circus, and everyone has a role: some entertain and some let themselves be entertained, some give orders and others obey, some risk their life several feet above the air while others prefer to keep their feet on ground. Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel take this metaphor literally in their latest work “Mister Universo”, a film in which the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction are blurred, and in which a series of hyper-realistic characters show the secret life of Italian circus performers.

What the two directors represent is a simple life, based on traditions, superstition and a strong sense of community. This image is given even more importance thanks to the interesting choice of including only characters that are somehow related to the circus business, emphasising how detached they are from the external world. We are the only spectators, lucky witnesses of Tairo’s adventures and of his distinctive friendliness, which puts a smile on our faces from start to finish.

It really is the ordinariness of the characters that makes this film special. Tairo is the typical rebellious elder brother, Wendy the caring sister, Arthur Robin the grandfather with hundreds of anecdotes, and his wife Lilly the loving grandmother in love with her grandchildren: it seems to us that we have already met each one of the characters. This is also due to the fact that the actors play themselves: Covi and Frimmel don’t organise castings; instead, they pick people they already know and devise a story for them, without changing any aspect of their personality.

This eccentric form of Neo-Realism throws the audience in the middle of the story, and allows them to share the characters’ emotions. During the projection, the audience’s engagement with the film is almost palpable: they laugh, cry, break into applause when Robin’s son bends an iron bar, and leaves with a smile on their faces. “Mister Universo” is an effective film: it moves in a subtle way, entertains without using the pathetic conventions of mainstream comedy, and manages to offer profound insights without approaching the overused theme of the political instability of nowadays’ Italy. Perhaps this film is exactly what people need now: a simple but gripping story, which is able to provide both entertainment and food for thought.

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