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Fortuna – The Girl and the Giants (Fortuna)

Fantasy and reality collide to chilling effect in this moving Italian arthouse drama — live from Tallinn


This is a film about children, but this is definitely not a film for children. A devastating mix of reality and fantasy that creates a provocative, chilling reverie, Fortuna — The Girl and the Giants is easily one of the standout films of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival and perhaps a favourite for the best First Feature award. Coming across as something like The Double Life of Veronique filtered through the dark imagination of David Lynch, it establishes debut feature director Nicolangelo Gelormini as a fresh new voice in Italian cinema.

It tells the story of Nancy (Cristina Magnotti), a young and troubled girl with a feverish imagination. Unable to talk to her mother (Valeria Golino) about her problems, she is sent to an uncaring child psychiatrist (Pina Turco) who barely looks up from her phone. Meanwhile, her friends tell her that she is really called Fortuna, a magical princess from another planet. But when one of these friends falls out of the window, we realise that this isn’t a traditional fairy tale, but arthouse in service of profoundly dark emotions.

It’s probably best not to ruin any more of the plot, which doesn’t matter as much as the film’s strange atmosphere and overall emotional power. When watching the first half of the film, it’s better not to focus so much on story as elements of symmetry, harmony and architecture. We get a real sense of the apartment blocks that create a stifling and menacing atmosphere, captured at different angles and repeated at different times to give us a real sense of character, place and situation. To be honest, nothing really makes sense until the far more melancholic second half, which clarifies the situation while bringing its terror into full view.

Moving between a full aspect ratio and a 4:3 frame, the film refracts and comments upon itself to create a multi-layered and ultimately extremely moving tale. Utilising a double narrative approach that mixes elements of the music video — Gelormini’s background – and chilling contemporary horror, it rewards close attention and critical audience engagement.

While some of the early elements and strange diverting moments initially seem irrelevant to the plot and at times seem to be the director flexing his aesthetic muscles a little too much, they later provide a crucial imaginative atmosphere that begs for a repeat viewing. Most importantly, when the direction begs for a more nuanced and subtle approach, the film knows when to dial the bravura down.

Containing one of the most brutal “based on a true story” postscripts committed to film, the overall effect of Fortuna — The Girl and The Giants is seriously chilling. Anchored by a great child performance by Magnotti — who manages to express so much by doing so little — as well as a searching synth score with nods towards the sci-fi genre, Fortuna pays back its initial confusing tone in spades while giving viewers a lot to think about. Simply put, this is one of the most haunting films of the year.

Fortuna — The Girl and the Giants plays as part of the First Feature competition at Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, running from 13th to 29th November.

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