Writers and Directors: Fabio D’Innocenzo and Damiano D’Innocenzo
The effects of toxic masculinity on childhood is explored in Fabio D’Innocenzo and Damiano D’Innocenzo’s peculiar film Bad Tales (Favolacce), employing an off-kilter tone to reveal the summertime experience of three connected families and the ways in which inappropriate and potentially abusive adult behaviours are engendered in their children.
Set in the suburbs of Rome, the families of Dennis, Viola and Geremia exist through a particularly hot summer as time spent together causes a variety of outbursts. The bad tales that unfold are a series of connected sketches of life, ugly and brutal, that result in a major and unexpected tragedy that devastates or affects each of the families in turn.
There are four troublesome male figures in Bad Tales (Favolacce), three aggressive fathers and a teacher whose action shape the lives of the pre-teens in their care. Told primarily from the perspective of the children, Fabio and Damiano D’Innocenzo overlap these narratives to create a picture of frustrated masculinity, hereditary behaviour and latent violence that manifests in the children’s own actions.
The heightened tone presents adults as slightly less extreme versions of Roald Dahl characters with few escaping the glare of the D’Innocenzo’s camera including Bruno, Dennis’s stay-at-home dad who resents his wife’s dominating economic status, his neighbour Pietro, and Amelio, the single father of Geremia who operates few boundaries. There is even a strange pregnant woman who feeds the bemused Dennis some of her breastmilk on a cookie.
Sex and inappropriate sexualisation runs through the film, not just in the way the pregnant woman reveals her body but in the talk between dads Bruno and Pietro at Viola’s birthday party as they discuss raping one of the other mothers to teach her a lesson. Pietro’s daughter is later seen scrolling through her dad’s aggressively pornographic Google history and several scenes have an implication that these children are considering and even encouraged to have sex.
There are subtle performances from the three leads, Tommaso Di Cola’s harassed Dennis and the more withdrawn Giulia Melillo as Viola and Justin Korovkin as Geremia who shape the emotional and narrative direction of the film. As the unpleasant father figures Gabriel Montesi as Amelio is particularly good while Elio Germano’s Bruno presents a man struggling to retain his self-esteem, resorting to violent outburst to maintain some semblance of control over his family.
The success of the film’s stories is patchy, with less investment in the role of Viola in particular as more screen time is allotted to Max Malatesta’s Pietro. That this all builds to the film’s shocking conclusion is perhaps unsurprising yet Bad Tales (Favolacce) is an interesting experiment in tone and taste.
The BFI London Film Festival runs from 7 to 18 October