I almost didn’t go to see The Stuff of Dreams. It was a very cold night and I had had a long and hard day at work — had I not already arranged to take a friend and paid for the tickets, I suspect inertia would have won and I would have snuggled on the sofa at home instead.
Luckily I reluctantly dragged myself to the lovely 1930s-styled Academy Gold Cinema. I say luckily because The Stuff of Dreams ended up being one of the highlights of this year’s Cinema Italiano Festival for me and thinking about it still makes me smile.
The whole thing is pure fantasy of course: a fable set at an unspecified time in a timeless place — a prison island where the only residents are the warden De Caro, his daughter Miranda, the prison guards and the prisoners, as well as one mysterious solitary native, Antioco.
The plot is similarly implausible. Following a shipwreck in a brutal storm, three Camorra criminals force the members of an acting troupe to disguise them as fellow actors. It is pretty clear that warden De Caro can smell out the ruse, but he decides to play along and ask the troupe to put on a showing of The Tempest (what else?). Their acting abilities will help him discriminate between the criminals and the thespians.
It is here that the film truly comes alive, thanks mostly to the hilarious interplay between the various members of the newly-enlarged theatrical troupe.
Sergio Rubini, as the troupe director Oreste Campese is delightful; timid yet forceful, and above all passionate about his art, he steals every scene he is in. He is closely matched by the Camorra patriarch, Don Vincenzo, who, aware that his fate and that of his companions is sealed, insists nonetheless that they do their best to avoid the ignominy of being shamed as bad actors. Don Vincenzo therefore convinces Campese to re-write the play in the Neapolitan dialect with droll results.
The full effect of this re-interpretation of Shakespeare’s work is best appreciated by those who understand Italian, but don’t let this put you off — not knowing a word of Italian did not diminish one whit the enjoyment of the friend who accompanied me to the screening, a man who, what’s more, is notoriously allergic to subtitled films.
In a memorable exchange, Campese tells the warden that theatre puts wings to the heart. The Stuff of Dreams put smiles on the faces of all the spectators at the screening I attended. Don’t risk missing out the fun as I almost did.