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    The Embalmer

    Stuff guys

    "The Embalmer" doesn't make the most of its oddball possibilities but does give an amusing look into the Italian mafia by way of a suggestive love triangle and a taxidermist.


    (Originally reviewed in April 2003 at the New Directors / New Films festival, Lincoln Center.)

    Peppino (Ernesto Mahieux) is a short, middle-aged taxidermist with a big heart who occasionally moonlights with the mafia. Valerio (Valerio Foglia Manzillo) is a tall, handsome, young waiter in need of a friend. Peppino and Valerio randomly meet while observing a rare predatory bird in the zoo; they discover a shared interest in stuffed animals, and a relationship analogous to that of either an obsessive father with his meek son or two lovers is born.

    Original title: L'Imbalsamatore.
    Directed by: Matteo Garrone.
    Written by: Ugo Chiti, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso.
    Cast: Ernesto Mahieux, Valerio Foglia Manzillo, Elisabetta Rocchetti, Lina Bernardi, Pietro Biondi, Bernardino Terracciano, Marcella Granito.
    Cinematography: Marco Onorato.

    Related links: Official site
    New Directors / New Films 2003
  • Angela
  • Bus 174
  • Camp
  • The Embalmer
  • The Guys
  • Hukkle

  • The Missing Gun
  • Mondays in the Sun
  • Raising Victor Vargas
  • Wild Berries
  • Respiro

  • Festival site
  • Based loosely on a news story from a tabloid, "L'Imbalsamatore" ("The Embalmer") is not the kind of film that has you laughing aloud, but it's hard not to at least smile throughout as you glimpse into the lives and frustrations of these unlikeliest of characters. Peppino invites Valerio to visit his workshop, then to work for him, and eventually, Valerio moves in with him.

    Valerio thrives as the taxidermist's apprentice, disregarding family and friends, and wants nothing but to please Peppino, until Deborah (Elisabetta Rocchetti), a wacky woman with funky lips, enters Valerio's life and Peppino's home, and decides to stay. Consequently, Peppino goes through great efforts to keep the boy at his side and Deborah far from them.

    The love triangle is intriguing, with Peppino and Deborah fiercely fighting over Valerio under bizarre circumstances. Just imagine what a taxidermist can do for the mafia. Just imagine what a taxidermist can do, period. But unfortunately, stuffed animals and all, the possibilities are not fully exploited, and the character of Valerio offers little resistance to join either side; he is too easily convinced, and his bouncing helplessly from Peppino to Deborah and back diminishes the strength of an otherwise interesting premise.

    "L'Imbalsamatore" might not leave you with some profound knowledge about human nature, but it does leave you wondering about your neighbors.  

    Still, the cast excel in their performances, especially Mr. Mahieux as the bizarre taxidermist. Short and chubby, his demeanor is almost sweet, even as his behavior becomes increasingly dubious, which makes the contrast between him and the young couple often hilarious. The scenes between the three of them are played with incredible honesty and ease. There are also other moments worth paying attention to, like the first scene, when Valerio and Peppino meet and we see them from the point of view of the predatory bird they are observing. It's not difficult to see the resemblance between the bird and Peppino; and halfway through the film, it's just as easy to identify the predatory tendencies in the rest of the characters.

    "L'Imbalsamatore" is an oddly paced film, and yet, very engaging. The sexual ambivalence of the characters, their frustrated dreams, the urban landscape, the dead animals from Peppino's work, all form part of a grotesque story that is played matter-of-factly, as if it were an everyday occurrence from next door. It might not leave you with some profound knowledge about human nature, but it does leave you wondering about your neighbors.

    APRIL 7, 2003

    Reader comments on The Embalmer:

  • about the " imbalasamatore" movie   from lila, Aug 8, 2003

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