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Henry IV

In Bellocchio's adaptation of a Pirandello play, a twentieth-century nobleman takes a fall during a medieval costume pageant and awakens convinced he is the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV of Germany. Family and friends take the path of least resistance and play along, and years pass before they come up with a scheme to pry him out of his elaborately staged, infuriating dementia. Pirandello brilliantly used humor to explore the existentialism of madness, asking who is the greater fool, the madman who knows he is mad, or the sane man who doesn't. But Mastroianni turns Henry IV into a self-reflexive film about the actor's craft and the crafty actor. His Henry dizzyingly ricochets between past and present, playacting and puppet mastery. At his most cogently manipulative, he crows, "What they fear most is that I'll unmask them"; but when he muses, "How is it possible that you are as others see you?" we remember the Marcello of Fellini and know the man has brought his heart to this powerful and haunting little film. The score is by Astor Piazzolla. (JB)

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