A group of elderly Italian men sit around drinking red wine, eating spaghetti and trading local folk stories passed down by their parents and grandparents. It was different back then, explains one old boy; there was no TV, so people had to sit around talking of an evening (though sitting around talking is precisely what this lot are doing). He tells the tale of Luciano, the illegitimate son of a local doctor sometime in the 19th century. It’s a dark story, he warns. Though possibly not dark enough. What first-time feature directors Alessio Rigo de Righi and Matteo Zoppis seem to be going for here is a Herzogian waking nightmare, but the necessary sense of horror and despair never fully comes off.
Their film gives us two episodes in the life of legendary Luciano, a drunk who villagers whisper has seen the inside of a psychiatric hospital. He’s played by Gabriele Silli, an artist and painter friend of the directors acting here for the first time, bringing a tortured Nick Cave quality to the part – as well as a pair piercing green eyes just right for the part of a loner who might be half-crazed or a visionary. Luciano is furious with a local nobleman for locking a wooden gate usually left open to let shepherds pass. His anger might have something to do with being in love with shepherd’s daughter Emma (Maria Alexandra Lungu) – though cinematographer Simone D’Arcangelo’s gorgeous shots of the Italian countryside are far more ravishing than the pair’s deeply un-sensual, mannered romantic scenes.
Something dramatic happens, and the action moves to Argentina a few years later, where the film goes full Herzog. Luciano is now impersonating a preacher and looking for hidden treasure in the company of thieving pirates and the crab of the title – a mad folly of an expedition that doesn’t feel quite warped enough, lacking somehow in striking images or mood. It never quite comes together.