If you were to ask a million different moviegoers to express the meaning behind Christian Serritiello and Arthur Patch's avant-garde feature film Gelateria, there's a fairly good chance that you'd find yourself with a million different perceptions of what it all means.
Inspired by both a true event and the far too brief period of British absurdism in cinema during the mid-sixties/early seventies, Gelateria isn't a cinematic beast for mass consumption but rather a film for the discerning cineaste capable of bathing in its indecipherable complexities and visual mastery. The film begins at an English seaside town during the winter; a man is screaming out into the sea though his words remain inaudible to all but himself.
He has lost his voice, a voice that becomes expressed by the five tales that provide the framework for this film that captured the top prize at Kinolikbez International Film Festival in July 2019 and was an official selection at Italy's Salerno Film Fest. The film continues its film festival journey in 2020 and those who appreciate absurdism and experimental cinema will most certainly embrace it.
It is difficult to describe Gelateria and perhaps useless to do so. It is a film that demands surrender and a film that one simply must witness to fully embrace. If we were to ask a million different moviegoers the meaning of all that unfolds in Gelateria, there's a good chance that a million different meanings would be provided.
They would all be correct, of course, because that is what absurdism demands and that is what Gelateria provides.
We meet Zbigniew (co-writer/director Christian Serritiello) as he is on a train headed to Zurich companioned by a loveless partner. He knows within himself that he must depart the train at the next stop; an act of desperation serving as an effort to alter the course of his life. He boldly steps forward into this unknown, a journey toward the murky, turbulent waters of his past where he must align himself with both inner and artistic obsessions. Of course, this type of journey is never that simple as stripping away one's facade to explore the inner shadow is filled with unpredictability, darkness, volatility, risk, bourgeois bohemians that bark, performance artists shooting real guns, caged humans who speak only in the language of birds, and fearful townsfolk. All these things are present and all these things are obstacles for Zbigniew as he attempts to move past the facade into the sweetness of authenticity in both art and real life.
The ensemble cast is brilliant here, easily aligned within the fragmented vision created by Serritiello and Patch and hypnotically bringing it all to life. If you require a cohesive narrative, you may simply stop here. While there is some sense of cohesion here, it's thematic and absurd and, if I'm being completely honest it's just a guess anyway. It's hard not to picture the ensemble sitting around one morning going "So, what do YOU think is the meaning of it all?"
Jack Patching provides an original score that is mesmerizing and serves as a lush companion to Arthur Patching and Serritiello's imaginative, off-kilter lensing that intrudes and withdraws, provokes and gasps. There is an animated sequence provided by Tiego Araujo that is emotionally resonant and easily on par with this year's Academy Award nominees. The ensemble includes the likes of both Serritiello and Patch along with Carrie Getman, Tomas Spencer, Daniel Brunet, Simone Spinazze and others who are all worthy of praise in their individual and collective moments.
Gelateria runs at a mere 62-minutes in length. It's a breezy 62 minutes that feels longer, perhaps because Patch and Serritiello fill the screen with so much sublime imagery and so much to ponder. So often in contemporary cinema, even when a filmmaker is being challenging they spoon-feed you bits and pieces of clues and hints to guide you along. Fortunately, Patch and Serritiello avoid this over-simplification of what is meant to be thought-provoking cinema and they allow the film and its characters to speak for themselves.
They do speak for themselves.
The five scenarios that unfold in Gelateria won't be described here, a description unable to do them justice and a description an unjust way to experience the rubber band chaos of illusion butting heads with reality that unfolds in the film. In each of the scenarios, that which exists on the surface is a mere facade for all that is underneath and all that must rise to the surface for the person and the artist.
Gelateria is masterful filmmaking, though it is not for the cinematically timid. It demands attention and patience, discernment and a willingness to forego control of the moviegoing experience. It is transformative cinema, both for the cast bringing it all to life and those who are watching it all unfold.
For more information on Gelateria, visit the film's official IMDB page linked to in the credits.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic