The Legend of Kaspar Hauser

Oliver Lunn

Davide Manuli’s The Life of Kaspar Hauser is another take on the historical Kaspar Hauser story (previously taken up by Werner Herzog in the brilliant The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser). Only, this version is much, much more ‘out there’ (if you can believe that). It’s irreverent, knowingly inaccurate, and utterly bonkers. You’ve just got to be willing to run with it.

For those who don’t know, the Kaspar Hauser legend tells of a mysterious boy discovered in Nuremburg in 1828. Unable to speak or communicate in a ‘normal’ way, Kaspar landed in jail where he slowly learned how to speak. Only then could he reveal to his captors the story of how he was imprisoned his entire life in a dark cell.

But only the faintest outline of this story can be found in Manuli’s film, which is not a problem, unless you’re a historian or a logically-minded person. Kaspar Hauser sort of comes at it with a punk attitude, with a middle-finger held up to history. It’s a black-and-white ‘technowestern’ laced with Trance music and flamboyant characters conspicuous enough to put Fellini’s casting choices to shame – Kasper being the most memorable with his bleach blonde hair, his headphones permanently stuck to his head and a tattoo of his name across his chest, just in case you forget. It should also be said that Kasper is clearly played by a girl. Clearly.

We all know how Vincent Gallo divides opinion; some people think he’s pretentious and self-indulgent, while others see him as an artist who provokes, takes risks and doesn’t really give two hoots about what anyone else thinks. Whatever you think, it’s hard to deny his presence in Kaspar Hauser. The actor looks well at home in Europe, as you’ll know if you’ve ever seen Clare Denis’ Nenete and Boni or Trouble Every Day, Jerzy Skolimowski’s Essential Killing, or Francis Ford Coppola’s Tetro. Here, in Italy, the actor seems equally at ease playing two – yes, two – roles: one a long-haired, motormouth sheriff (looking like one of The Village People), the other a disco-loving stud called Pusher.

Without Gallo it’s hard to imagine the film carrying the same weight, even with all the striking and memorable images the director throws our way – one of a shirtless Kaspar wearing bunny ears (a nod to Harmony Korine’s Gummo perhaps). On top of that, there’s a über-modern, bass-thumping score from French electronic act Vitalic, making this bizarre, surreal film one of the most interesting discoveries of the year so far. Davide Manuli is a name to remember.

Follow Oliver on Twitter: @OliverLunn

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