The Red Dwarf

The leering bastard child of La Dolce Vita and Freaks, The Red Dwarf is a Belgian melodrama that never transcends its air of sentimentalized sideshow curiosity. Lucien (Jean-Yves Thual) is a dwarf and law-office drone who one day makes a house call to his firm's premier client, a faded opera diva played by Anita Ekberg; the actress has, alas, finally grown into her gargantuan breasts, while her girlish chirp has coarsened into a nicotined grunt worthy of Patty and Selma Bouvier. His loins girded by one glimpse of Ekberg's Countess Paola lounging walrus-like poolside—and his confidence boosted by the appearance of a freakier freak in his tightly circumscribed world—Lucien plunges into the fountain at her estate for a bath no doubt meant to evoke Ekberg's false baptismal in La Dolce Vita and then seduces the countess, who responds with fabulously ludicrous sweet talk like "Come and eat my tiramisu."

The murky black-and-white cinematography and cheerily vulgar angles—for the singular image of Lucien and Paola fucking, the camera advances from under the bed and ends up peering over them, as if tracking the movements of some zealous R.A.—lend the film some seedy midnight-movie charm, but this tone collides with the cloying parallel story involving Lucien's friendship with a little girl, Isis, a trapeze artist in the local carnival. Once Paola dumps him and Lucien locates his inner murderous rage (against the Big People, in case you were wondering), our hero flees into the anonymity of circus life, yet still can't find footing as One of Us. Only Isis really understands him, as we're informed with a brief color interlude in which the red-rubber-nosed Lucien gazes at his muse with a soppy smile, dredging noxious memories of Patch Adams; at this point, all the film has left to say is, I'm okay, you're okay.

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