The Little Devil

(Il Piccolo Diavolo, Roberto Benigni, Italy, 1988)


Comic actor-writer-director Roberto Benigni is an enormous star in Italy, but his standing in English language countries has grown all too slowly, through his appearances in Jim Jarmusch's films (including Night on Earth, 1991) and his own Johnny Stecchino (1991).

For The Little Devil (here reviewed in an English-language video version), Benigni has assembled several people associated with him in the Jarmusch films: Nicoletta Braschi, John Lurie and premier cinematographer Robby Müller.

For the American market there is also Walter Matthau, playing a beleaguered priest who exorcises from a possessed woman the devilish spirit of Benigni and then has to keep tabs on him.

This infectious, often side-splitting film really warms up when Matthau disappears and Benigni starts trading inspired reams of verbal nonsense with the nutty Braschi.

Benigni is a remarkable performer, and his view of human behaviour is pleasingly idiosyncratic. His role here allows him to play the child – discovering language, mimicking everyone and everything around him, constantly exploding with delight. It also allows him to explore sexuality and gender in a special way, akin to Blake Edwards' Switch (1991).

Don't overlook this lovely comedy.

MORE Benigni: Life is Beautiful

© Adrian Martin January 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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