This visually-stunning 2021 Italian film spins us a tale. In more-or-less present-time rural Italy, a group of old men sit around a table. One offers to tell a story, then we move into that story: in Part 1, in the 1800s, Luciano, drunkard son of the local doctor, stirs up trouble: the shepherds have been taking a shortcut to the river through the grounds of the Prince’s castle, and one day they find the entry barred. At the pub they complain – they’ve been using this route for countless years, and while acknowledging the land belongs to the Prince, they feel they have a historic right to passage with their flocks. Luciano reopens the gate – perhaps to be contrary, perhaps because one of the shepherds is father of his inamorata. With this act, he runs afoul of the Prince and his enforcers.
From here we move into Part 2, in which Luciano is exiled to Argentina. In Tierra del Fuego, he learns of a Spanish galleon that ran aground in a storm. The ship’s captain took the cargo of gold and hid it somewhere on a large rugged island. Pirates and treasure hunters come seeking it, Luciano among them. Here a spaghetti-western interlude nearly upends the film; fortunately the through-line of the story, having to do with the crab of the title, keeps us on course to a wondrous finale.
The landscapes are enfolding, characters have the weathered simple features of plain folk, dialog is laconic, action brusque and sometimes violent. We see peasants at their daily tasks – milking sheep, washing out clothes at the spring, filtering the sediment from wine. Allegorical imagery is there if we want to pursue it: twice Luciano is shot in the side, in the same place where Jesus was speared as he hung on the cross. Sin, redemption, the weight of the world, the power of love, all are here to be expounded on. Luciano also fits the nihilist loner archetype of Westerns: ravaged by his own emptiness, he drinks, defies, tries to find deeds worthy of his effort, all the while aware of the brevity of life and futility of death.
I can’t say more about King Crab without spoilers, so I’ll just urge you to go see this lush film on a big screen.