Amanda Kramer’s psycho-drama Give Me Pity! is a lot of things, which makes it rather difficult to describe. Nevertheless, this psychedelic, highly theatrical comedy-cum-musical, proves to be a rather extraordinary showcase for its lead, Sophie von Haselberg. Imagine a 1980s TV special invaded by a demon – or an episode from a parallel dimension that reflects ours darkly – and you’ll have a notion of what to expect.
“Jesus and I are both big entertainers,” states Sissy St. Claire (von Haselberg). “We both have our iconic look.” Elated to host her own television special, Sissy’s desperate to be known and loved, referring to Jesus continuously. Of course, as we all know, the media is the devil, and very soon, the idyllic world of neon colors, disco balls, glitter, and strobing lights starts to mold and deteriorate. All the while, a man lurks in the shadows – the Observer, us, glaring at Sissy expectedly, judgingly, threateningly.
“Imagine a 1980s TV special invaded by a demon…”
Give Me Pity! resolutely sticks to the chosen format of an extended TV episode, with the entirety of the film taking place on stage. Kramer gets all the details right but then exaggerates them, distorts images, and cleverly fuses Josh Ascalon, Giulio Carmassi, and Bryan Scary’s jarring, spine-tingling score with the more recognizable sounds of the past. All this amounts to an astute study of fandom, insecurity, and what it means to hold the spotlight. The writer-director continues to examine and deconstruct (or more like gut/disembowel) identity, and here seems to take a stab at our addiction to media, pixelating shots until they’re painful to the eye.
Sophie von Haselberg deserves major props for holding this phantasmagorical trip together. Talk about commitment and versatility. She sings and goes through a dozen costume changes and hairstyles. She has to analyze someone doing impressions of her and replies to brutal fan mail. Sissy confronts a fortune-teller, waxes about money, conceptual power, and her upbringing, all while dressed as an angel. She turns herself inside out, smearing make-up all over her face, as she stumbles and crawls on stage. The character is also a disco dancer, a singer, and a widow; a particular highlight involves her performing a very patriotic ode to the American flag. The actor makes each moment and version of Sissy work wondrously.
The entirety of Give Me Pity! is more of an artistic treatise, a museum piece, a series of single-woman monologues, than a coherent, you know, film, and that’s clearly the intention. One can do a lot worse than take a look inside Kramer’s head, and this one makes her other explorations of humanity, Please Baby Please and Ladyworld, seem positively conventional. Quite the feat.
Give Me Pity! screened at the 2022 International Film Festival Rotterdam.
"…Sophie von Haselberg deserves major props..."