Finally, we get the superhero film we deserve. In Gabriele Mainetti’s aptly titled feature, Freaks vs. the Reich, a quartet of circus freaks takes on the Third Reich.
It’s 1943 in Rome at the “Mezza Piotta Circus.” The big top’s finale involves its four top stars. First, there is Matilde (Aurora Giovinazzo), who can summon electricity from her body. Second, Cencio (Pietro Castellitto) can command insects to do his will with a mere thought. Third, Mario (Giancarlo Martini) is magnetic and attracts all metal. Finally, we have the wolfman, Fulvio (Claudio Santamaria), covered in hair with extraordinary strength. All are led by the ringmaster Israel (Giorgio Tirabassi). The crowds love the Freaks, but their careers come to an abrupt end when the circus and town they are performing are bombed and invaded by the Nazis.
When the dust settles, the S.S. begins gathering the town’s Jews for immediate relocation, including Israel. Our four freaks find safe passage to America but are soon captured. While on the road to the prison camp, the four use their powers to escape and help rescue some of the Jews on the truck. Meanwhile, S.S. Lieutenant Franz (Franz Rogowski), also a freak, is looking to assemble a freak team to present to Hitler as a super-soldier squad. Franz’s powers come from his six fingers. He can play the piano and, strangely, see into the future.
“…the four use their powers to escape and help rescue some of the Jews…”
There is so much to love about Freaks vs. the Reich. First is the art and production design. It’s reminiscent of a lot of my favorite films and genres. Director Mainetti could be mistaken for Tim Burton. There’s a surreal nature to this tale. It feels like 1940s Rome, but there is a magical element to our story with the addition of the Freaks. The sets are beautiful, the music is haunting, and the overall look of the film would put current Disney to shame. Yes, it’s CG-heavy, but Freaks does rely primarily on practical sets and props for authenticity and realism.
There is also a haunting and dire tone as this country is under Nazi rule. The bombing of the circus is tragic, and the deaths surrounding it are equally haunting. Now add the incredibly sadistic Franz, who tortures freaks for fun, looking for the ones who match his powers.
The real reason to see Freaks vs. the Reich is our team of freaks. They are a bunch of misfits who can’t quite get the teamwork thing down. That doesn’t mean they don’t love and admire one another; teamwork just isn’t their forte. But, like any good superhero film, each gets their time to shine individually and kick significant Nazi a*s altogether. Matilde ultimately becomes the Jean Grey of the crew. There is no irony in the fact that they are called the Fantastic Four at one point in the film.
Freaks vs. the Reich is going to remind you of several films all at once: Superman, Life is Beautiful, Big Fish, X-Men, and, weirdly, Pippi Longstocking. So if you’re suffering from superhero fatigue, this is just the palette cleanser you need.
Freaks vs. the Reich is currently in theaters and Video on Demand.
"…if you're suffering from superhero fatigue, this is just the palette cleanser you need."