The patffio, the review: a ragged and gaunt Middle Ages tells a lot about our present

The review of Il pataffio, a choral comedy by Francesco Lagi with Valerio Mastandrea, Lino Musella and Alessandro Gassman, premiered at Locarno 2022 and in cinemas from 18 August.

Il Pataffio: Lino Musella in a photo

One laughs bitterly with the Middle Ages by Francesco Lagi, as ours underlines review of Il pataffio, one of the two Italian films in competition at Locarno 2022. A miserable and hopeless Middle Ages that has many similarities with the present. Lagi confirms that he is at ease with the choral dimension after the inspired Quasi Natale and leads an unlikely army (Brancaleone … a far from accidental comparison) through the arid and barren lands of lower Lazio, where the former stable boy Berlocchio (Lino Musella), who has married the daughter of the king of Montecacchione (Viviana Cangiano), goes to take possession of the fief of Tripalle. In place of the desired comforts and abundance, he will find a semi-ruined castle and a handful of villagers led by Migone (Valerio Mastandrea) struggling to make ends meet.

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Il Pataffio: Valerio Mastandrea in a scene from the film

With models of excellence such as the Brancaleone army, precisely, and the Monty Python, the risk was to fall into slavish imitation or idealization. Francesco Lagi, however, uses the novel by Luigi Malerba from 1978 as a compass, The pataffioremaining faithful to the source of inspiration and deviating only to enrich the plot with a deeper excavation of the characters or with hooks to the present that update the harsh satire of the costumes with tasty gimmicks.

Between parody and humanization of characters

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Il Pataffio: Viviana Cangiano, Alessandro Gassmann in a scene from the film

After the vision of Il pataffio, the interpretations of the large cast will remain impressed in the spectator, some very well suited, such as the lucid and calibrated one by Lino Musella, others more caricatured, but all functional to the representation of this Middle Ages from an operetta, more tragic than fun. Musella plays the social climber on duty who aspires to change his condition with a marriage of interest and who feels smart and capable enough to run a fiefdom by imposing taxes and demanding tributes. Delicate and romantic the figure of his bride Bernarda, played by the actress and singer Viviana Cangiano, who dreams of love and finds herself sleeping in the muck due to the ambition of the newlyweds.

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The Pataffio: Lino Musella, Valerio Mastandrea, Vincenzo Nemolato, Giovanni Ludeno, Giorgio Tirabassi

But the real counterpart of Musella is represented by the villain Valerio Mastandrea, who does not need particular efforts to be credible in the role of Migone. It is enough for him to draw on his light-hearted melancholy to be credible in the role of the peasant tormented by hunger, but ready to use cunning to lead his peers against the new tyrant. Giorgio Tirabassi embodies Belcapo, councilor of Berlocchio resigned to following the ideas of his boss while Alessandro Gassmann plays a friar more interested in the pleasures of the flesh than those of the spirit. Then there are the soldiers Ulfredo and Manfredo, respectively played by Vincenzo Nemolato and Giovanni Ludeno, and the rival Vecchia del Castellazzo, to whom Daria Deflorian gives life in an irresistible cameo.

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The subtle balance between comedy and drama

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Il Pataffio: Vincenzo Nemolato, Giovanni Ludeno in a scene from the film

The adaptation of Il Pataffio involved various challenges for Francesco Lagi. At the first level there is the linguistic one, given that Malerba’s language is a picturesque Romanesque mixed with Latin, a language that the actors have learned to chew by showing it off with discreet ease in comic bickering. Then there is the problem of interpretations, given that the characters of Il pataffio represent well-defined stereotypes. Each actor chooses a different tone in modulating his character and the dreaming Bernarda corresponds to the caricatural Frate Cappuccio by Gassman, who seems to take refuge in the parodic tradition in comparison with the more contemporary and naturalistic interpretations of Musella and Mastandrea.

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Il Pataffio: Alessandro Gassmann, Viviana Cangiano in a sequence

Francesco Lagi leads this orchestra trying to harmonize the various elements, but he succeeds better in the most dramatic and reflective moments than in the comic ones. The gags with which Il pataffio, especially in the first part, is studded and the linguistic catchphrases sometimes manage to snatch a smile, but the sad and derelict atmosphere that envelops all the characters, as noble as peasants, prevails. There is a tragic flavor in the story of Il pataffio and Lagi’s directorial sensitivity means that this mood transpires in the key moments, making the film interesting. The strength of the film is the metaphorical inspiration with which the representation of the Middle Ages, in the hands of the director, becomes an instrument of criticism of the present, reflections on the balance of power between rich and poor, between men and women. All without disturbing the accuracy of the staging in which Mariano Tufano’s costumes and Stefano Bollani’s effective music stand out.


The review of Il pataffio highlights the qualities of Francesco Lagi’s choral comedy, which reconstructs a metaphorical and speckled Middle Ages starting from the novel by Luigi Malerba. The result is a decidedly interesting film that, beyond some imperfections, works thanks to the dedication of the cast, to an effective technical sector in which Stefano Bollani’s music stands out and above all to the moderate sensitivity of the director able to use the reconstruction of a distant era as tools for critical analysis of the present.

Because we like it

  • The modern sensibility with which the representation of the Middle Ages becomes an instrument of criticism of the present.
  • The presence of a choral cast which, with its interpretations and work on language, amplifies the dramatic background of the film.
  • The effective and evocative music of Stefano Bollani.
  • the bittersweet tone that softens the wickedness of Luigi Malerba’s novel.

What’s wrong

  • Some characters at times touch the macchiettistico.
  • The comic dimension tout court, especially when it gets foul, works less than the dramatic one.

The patffio, the review: a ragged and gaunt Middle Ages tells a lot about our present