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This was a highly unlikely but surprisingly effective and enjoyable venture for Italian cinema to undertake at the start of the 1980s: the fanciful story of 'The Good Thief' who ended up being crucified next to Jesus Christ on Golgotha Hill. Then-popular comic Enrico Montesano is ideally cast in the title role of a confidence trickster who roams the streets of Galilee forever in search of the next merchant to sell his defective goods to (passing off a black goat harbinger of bad luck as white by painting it!; a dead dog, sold for his silvery skin, which jumps back to life upon hearing its master's whistle, etc.) or the next gullible simpleton to impress with his 'magical' skills (changing water into wine via a tube hidden inside his robe attached to his arms, etc.). Naturally, he does not take kindly to the appearance of Jesus (a very understated and virtually silent appearance by regular Euro-Cult tough guy Claudio Cassinelli) who, not only seems to impinge on his territory, but also seemingly outdoes his every trick with the greatest of ease and the minimum of fuss! Despite its reverent subject, being ostensibly an Italian comedy of its time and co-starring the bountiful Edwige Fenech (playing Lazarus' cousin, a has-been leper whore!) no less, one could hardly fail to find nudity here although, surprisingly enough, the film's sexiest episode involves distinguished French actress Bernadette Lafont who, as the nymphomaniac wife of a Roman aristocrat, indulges in some prolonged posterior playtime with her willing slave Montesano!! Another ingredient that comes with the territory is crude humor of the scatological variety and this is exhibited via Montesano's encounter with a bunch of Roman soldiers who, entrapping him in a grave, first force him to display his circumcised organ and, then, to repay the favor douse him in collective peeing!! Incongruously, this is then followed by the film's most poignant sequence when the soldiers callously shoot dead his fateful dog (that, amusingly, had previously served as Montesano's 'eye' during card games)! Furthermore, director Festa Campanile (who was also the author of the controversial original source novel) cleverly makes his hapless protagonist a witness to Christ's ministry long before their fateful meeting on Good Friday: he shares a beggars' banquet at the Cana Wedding; he sees a lame man being cured; he goes to the Sermon on the Mount when the miracle of the multiplication of the bread and fish to feed the masses is performed; he is there to observe His walk on water; he is the one to benefit (albeit for a short-term) from Christ telling a wealthy acolyte to go dispose of his every earthly possession and follow Him, etc. Strangely enough, however, the all-important Cruxifiction scene is rather carelessly dealt with, as if the film-makers where impatient to wrap things up! In any case, their decision to shoot in Tunisia pays dividends in an authentic recreation of the times and the ubiquitous Ennio Morricone supplies a jaunty music score that pleases the ear without taxing one's memory.
Comedian Enrico Montesano stars as Caleb, the good thief of the title.
Not good in the sense of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor,
but in that his escapades are funny. A contemporary of Jesus Christ
(played by Claudio Cassinelli), Caleb is convinced that Jesus is a con
artist just like him, and becomes jealous of his more accomplished
'tricks' and tries to copy them.
From start to finish Caleb makes his inner-thoughts known by way of narration, revealing that the film is based on a novel, by Pasquale Festa Campanile. Naturally, the view of Christ presented therein caused quite a stir when the book came out. As director however, Campanile avoids most of the controversial parts and concentrates on the saucy bits instead.
Practically every woman who meets Caleb falls for him, even though he often mentions how much he smells during his aforementioned voice-over. The one woman who proves to be his match is Edwidge Fenech as Deborah, a hooker (cured of leprosy by Christ). Despite of her profession, Fenech' nude scenes are kept to a bare minimum (though still pictures reveal at least one more scene of Caleb and Deborah in bed that doesn't appear in the film). Apart from Edwige, there are many beautiful shots of the landscape (filmed in her homeland Tunisia) and Ennio Morricone serves up one of his 'comical' scores.
However at 110 minutes, Il Ladrone rather overstays his welcome. The story is really a collection of (mostly) comic set pieces. Many subplots and diversions could easily have been left out and the occasionally crude humor does not fit with the more serious parts about Caleb's envy for Christ. For example, a sad scene involving the death of Caleb's dog Joshua at the hands of evil Romans is followed up by a very silly bit with him taking revenge by selling an 'invisibility cream' to the killer.
7 out of 10
it is, in same time, a nice Italian comedy and a religious film. a joke and map of a fundamental discover. a portrait of actual world. and a seductive labyrinth. a touching film, too long, maybe, but interesting, fresh and full of smart manner to build a different work about sacrifice of Christ. so, it is perfect movie for entire family because, in fact, it is only a beautiful story about a man and his image about life. essence - the right performance and slices of commedia dell arte, the meridional spirit as perfect spice and courage to realize a small revolution of good thief image. nothing else. with flavor of childhood games , with precise view about metamorphose of an existence, it is source of special joy.
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