By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Priest befriends a demon.
Father Maurice (Walter Matthau) is a tired and aging priest who is beginning to question both his faith and existence. One day he is called to exorcise a demon from an older woman and when he does so out pops a funny looking man named Giuditta (Roberto Benigni) who claims to be the demon. At first Father Maurice does not believe him, but after seeing that Giuditta’s reflection does not appear in a mirror he begins to realize that he is dealing with some spirit from another realm. His attempts at trying to get rid of him are futile and eventually he learns to enjoy the companionship that Giuditta offers and even considers him to be a strange blessing in disguise.
There have been many parodies done of The Exorcist, but this one manages to be one of the better ones because it doesn’t stick with the formula. Instead it takes the possession angle and gives it a whole new spin while avoiding the clichés and becoming more like a whimsical character study instead of a horror rip-off.
Benigni, who also directed, is in top form and his naïve, child-like character is quite engaging and helps make him a solid scene stealer throughout. He even manages to do the impossible and upstage the always reliable Matthau, although for the record Matthau is still good and it’s fun seeing these pros with extremely contrasting acting styles work together with a chemistry that is surprisingly strong.
The film features many funny and original moments. One of my favorites is when Giuditta goes into a long, detailed conversation about being ‘inside’ the old woman for days on-end much to the shock of the staid priests at the dinner table who think he is referring to sex. Giuditta’s reliving himself late at night in a park in which his pee shoots out like water from a garden hose is hilarious as well as his over-infatuation with a the alarm on a man’s wristwatch while riding on a train.
Why this charming little gem of a movie has never been released in America despite its big name stars is hard to understand. The film’s only real drawback is that it inserts a romantic angle during the second-half in which Giuditta falls in-love with Nina, which is played by Nicoletta Braschi who later married Benigni in real-life. Although Braschi is amusing and shares Benigni’s child-like, offbeat persona, the camaraderie between Matthau and Benigni is what makes the film work and that is where the focus should’ve stayed.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: July 3, 1988
Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes
Director: Roberto Benigni
Studio Yarno Cinematografica
Available: VHS (English Subtitles), DVD (Italian Language only) (Region 0)