The Embalmer

The Embalmer


Reviewed by: Sobhano

Poppino (Ernesto Mahieux) is a taxidermist. He is also a dwarf, who has a sex habit and enjoys orgies. His protege is Valerio (Valerio Foglia Manzillo)), a shy young man with the kind of sucked-in bone structure that looks good in dark wet streets and beach vistas.

Poppino nurtures his student in the black arts of stuffing dead animals and soon Valerio has given up his job and his girlfriend to pursue this new calling. Very quickly, however, the merely bizarre turns sinister, as Poppino's malevolent mind embroils the naive Valerio into compromising sexual scenarios. Meanwhile, the Mafia is never far away. The dwarf has his sleazy lifestyle to finance and, in debt to a mobster boss, is required to open up cadavers used for drug smuggling.

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The significance, or otherwise, of the taxidermist trade is soon forgotten - this is not a Chocolat for furry friends. Director Matteo Garrone seems more interested in creating a mood of decay. An unspecified Italian city, shot either at night or at the first light of dawn, is generally empty and in need of a coat of paint. Nicely rusting awnings in the yellow light create an atmosphere of isolation and detachment. A flock of sea birds flies across an estuary to sumptuous strings. Occasionally, Valerio lingers in a beaten-up doorway, looking like a male model at a grunge chic photo shoot, wearing expensive clothes.

In the end, the dramatic interest relies upon the exposure of the dwarf's sleazy intentions. Perhaps, some point is being made here about the contrast between passive beauty and the ugliness of manipulative power. We are supposed to loathe Poppino, not just because he is a misfit, but because he is trying to seduce his apprentice.

By this time the viewer has lost any meaningful connection with where the film is going. Valerio's fetching new girlfriend appears and disappears without adding anything to the overall sense of the story. Poppino gets his just deserts and somewhere there's an orange sun setting over wind-swept waste ground, with a flock of birds flying around. Again.

Reviewed on: 16 Apr 2004
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The Embalmer packshot
Animal-stuffing sleazy dwarf embroiled in Mafia drug running.
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Director: Matteo Garrone

Writer: Ugo Chiti, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso

Starring: Ernesto Mahieux, Valerio Foglia Manzillo, Elisabetta Rochetti, Lina Bernardi, Pietro Biondi, Bernardino Terracciano, Marcella Granito

Year: 2002

Runtime: 101 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Italy


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