"KAOS," a profound film by the masterful Italians Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, consists of four Sicilian short stories -- pastoral parables set at the turn of the century, freely adapted from the works of Luigi Pirandello, who figures in the elegiac epilogue.
The Tavianis, known for "The Night of the Shooting Stars" and the earthy "Padre Padrone," again explore the links between the people and the land. Here they pit an impassioned ensemble cast against Sicily's mythic countryside with its fallen columns and crumbling Roman roads. The stories are full of irony and mystery, with ties to ancient peasant folklore, yet they seem as familiar as the story of Noah and the flood.
A raven with a bell round his neck flies above the island, ringing in each of the four tales, set mostly out of doors, exposed by the unforgiving Sicilian light. The first is a tragic melodrama, "The Other Son," with Margarita Lozano as a mother who yearns for two thoughtless sons who emigrated to America 14 years before. The other son, faithful and loving, lingers in a field nearby in hopes his mother will acknowledge him. Lozano rejects him, explaining the slight to the village doctor. It is staged as if for classical theater.
The raven, flying above stones hurled by superstitious villagers, circles above the terraced hills to the farm of a new bride (Enrica Maria Modugno) and her husband (Claudio Bigagli) who is subject to lunar fits. "Moon Sickness," an occult love triangle, finds the farmer howling at the blazing white orb like a mad dog, while his surprised bride locks herself inside till the ranting subsides. A former beau (Massimo Bonetti) plans to keep her company during these monthly episodes.
The same huge moon shines luridly on the third story, a farcical fairytale "The Jar." Preparing for a record harvest, a greedy landowner Don Lollo (Ciccio Ingrassia) orders a terra-cotta amphora for the olive oil -- "a jar wide as an abbess," write the poetic Tavianis. Lollo is punished by the gods for his greed, and the jar is cracked when a shadow passes over the moon. Franco Franchi, playing a magnanimous potter, is trapped in the jar while gluing it back together again.
"Requiem," the last episode, concerns a group of shepherds, squatters on an estate, who appeal for the right to bury their patriarch (Salvatore Rossi) on the homestead. Peasant wiles prevail with an assist from the carabinieri and the ghost of a horse. The architecture of the city, the dusty palms and the panorama of pale blue sea provide a Biblical backdrop for the legend.
The movie is three hours and eight minutes long, and the filmmakers gave distributors the right to cut one of the stories. Contrary to form, the American distributors were unwilling to tamper with genius, and American audiences will be the first to see "Kaos" complete. It is both a mystifying and enriching experience.
KAOS (R) -- At the Key, in Italian with English subtitles.