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True Story?

Italian film 'Legend of Tony Vilar' tackles mockumentary format but lacks a firm grasp

Like another Tribeca Film Festival feature, The Grand, “The True Legend of Tony Vilar” takes on the mockumentary format -- notable because it’s an Italian film, possibly one of the first examples of filmmakers outside North America doing so.

“Tony Vilar” follows Peppe Voltarelli, a young Italian singer who recalls Argentinian singer Tony Vilar as a musical idol of his youth who disappeared and left the business at the peak of his career. It’s unclear how much of Tony Vilar’s story is actually documentary and how much stretches the facts of his life for comic effect.

Anyway, the film has a way of manically, attention deficit disorder-style flitting from one possible link to finding Tony Vilar to another. Voltarelli first goes to Argentina, where he quickly learns Vilar left not soon after leaving the business, and has likely settled in New York. Once decamping for New York, Voltarelli and an associate careen from the Bronx to Brooklyn to Little Italy to New Jersey to Connecticut and back to New York City again, making the movie a series of 15 to 20 minute meet and greets with people who know Vilar or knew him or might know where he is, such as an ex-wife, his barber and others. Along the way Voltarelli seems to grow an entourage with some of these other characters.

The problem with the film is the mockumentary idea seems to have been lost in translation to Italian, so the filmmakers throw in impromptu musical numbers, party scenes and shtick, with the few really funny ideas (or occurrences, if they really happened) -- like Vilar going prematurely bald being the reason why he left the business, only being mentioned in an off-handed way and not being explored enough. For example, in Christopher Guest’s “Waiting for Guffman,” Guest’s theater director character is a washout from the big time in New York theater, and this figures clearly into the characterization throughout the movie, while in “Tony Vilar,” the failing of the entertainer is told, not shown.

  

   

     

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