Stanford Mail

Unsuspecting Heroes Unite to Fight Nazis in WWII Italy

Freaks vs. The Reich (also known as Freaks Out)


Genre: Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
Year Released: 2021, 2023 US premiere
Runtime: 2h 21m
Director(s): Gabriele Mainetti
Writer(s): Gabriele Mainetti, Nicola Guaglianone
Cast: Claudio Santamaria, Aurora Giovinazzo, Pietro Castellitto, Giancarlo Martini, Giorgio Tirabassi, Max Mazzotta, Franz Rogowski, Sebastian Hülk, Anna Tenta
Language: Italian with English subtitles
Where To Watch: premieres theatrically & on VOD/Digital on April 28, 2023

RAVING REVIEW: Is it a superhero, Western, or war film? FREAKS VS. THE REICH, set amid the chaos of WWII, is a bit of all of those with a drama/romance thrown in for good measure. It chronicles the journey of four supernaturally gifted circus performers who join forces to resist the Nazi invasion of Italy.

Dreaming of a fresh start in America (when that was genuinely the goal for so many,) the group worked together in their quest for freedom. The ensemble features Matilde, a young woman wielding electric powers; Cencio, an albino with insect-manipulating abilities; Mario, a dwarf with the ability to control the magnetic field; and Fulvio, a strongman because you have to have one of those. It would be like a reimagining of the X-Men if they were dropped into this world. Their journey is impeded by Franz, a six-fingered, ether-addicted Nazi, who is convinced that their supernatural talents could secure victory for Hitler and the Reich (that description was too crazy not to use.)

FREAKS VS. THE REICH boasts numerous award wins already, including six David di Donatello Awards and three Silver Ribbon Awards. It also gained recognition at the 78th Venice International Film Festival, garnering various honors such as the Leoncino d'Oro Award and the Bisato d'Oro for Best Actor.

The narrative unfolds as the performers navigate Nazi-occupied Rome under the watchful eye of Israel, proprietor of the "Mezza Piotta Circus." As Franz hunts them, the group embarks on a mission to find Israel when he disappears, and Franz is hell-bent on exploiting the group's paranormal powers to tip the war in the Third Reich's favor.

FREAKS VS. THE REICH is visually stunning, blending various styles from all of its genres that it pays homage to. It also boasts impressive set design, costuming, and CGI that help mix it all. My biggest issue with the film is the runtime; I never felt it while watching but coming in at almost two and a half hours will limit the audience. I’ve always wondered what the 2017 GUARDIANS film from Russia would be like (I just never made time to watch it yet.) It’s kind of like this, in theory, a group of former Soviet superheroes assembled during the Cold War.

I appreciated how the film handled the challenges of modernizing the circus “freaks” motif that has struggled in the past. By not showing them as outcasts but as heroes themselves. It would have been easy to slide into stereotyping, and initially, I was a little worried that’s where it went, but once the film got its feet, I was pleasantly surprised. The film's shift from showing the group's abilities to dropping them into a war zone was jarring but intentional, and it served as a reminder of the characters' dire circumstances.

In conclusion, FREAKS VS. THE REICH is an intriguing film highlighting director Gabriele Mainetti's ability to create a visual narrative supported by a powerful cast. The movie shows cinema's ability to transport audiences into unexplored worlds while challenging them to contemplate societal norms and the intricate nature of identity.

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[photo courtesy of VMI RELEASING]