[Calgary Underground Film Festival] The Secret Poppo (2018) - Reviewed

The Secret Poppo screened at CUFF

The Secret Poppo is a mystery movie unlike any mystery movie I have seen before. It follows a man named Jonald as he investigates the disappearance of the granddaughter he never knew he had. But it does not tell this story in anything approaching a straight-forward way. Nothing about this film can be discerned from a simple synopsis. It is an offbeat, mostly improvised, comedy involving weird characters with quirky personalities. All of the humor comes from unusual angles. There are very few, if any, jokes with obvious, setup and payoff, punchlines. The end result is an oddly amusing film.

​It stars professional architect and untrained actor Nick Luzietti as Jonald. He basically dictates the strange tone. I have no idea how much of the real Luzietti is present in Jonald, but he is quite affable as he ambles and dances his way toward the conclusion. It is sort of a character study, except he does not develop so much as exist. He is fully formed at the start. Though his search is essentially a quest for redemption, the experience of watching The Secret Poppo is mainly watching Jonald interact with the equally eccentric world around him.

​The direction is a perfect match for Luzietti’s lead performance. This is a project that consistently refuses to take its story particularly seriously. The way it goes wherever it wants is one of the more entertaining things about it. The plot is kind of confusing, with little exposition to clear it all up. This is somewhat surprising because a lot of the dialogue is in the form of Jonald’s narration. Since he is completely unaware of what is actually going on, it would be hard for him to explain it all to the audience. Instead, we just go along for the peculiarly scenic ride.

However, its lack of clarity is okay since the movie is far more concerned with style and behavior than plot. But what a style! There are goofy opening and closing credits that reminded me of something from the 70s (in a good way), plenty of over the top sound effects, plus editing featuring many cuts to Jonald dancing or smiling at the camera. The Secret Poppo also has a fairly fast pace considering it seems to be in no hurry to go anywhere specific. This really defies coherent descriptions. It is exactly what it is and stays true to that weirdness throughout.

​I enjoyed The Secret Poppo because of the confidence it has to be whatever the filmmakers felt like at any given moment. Best of all, in Nick Luzietti, it has a star who is fun to watch. I did get a little tired of the unrelenting oddness by the end. Eventually, it became exhausting. I needed some story or character to latch onto. Those qualities are missing, but are they necessary when it contains so many other things? Well, yes. Still, I always appreciate a film that attempts something different and this certainly fits into that category. It is a mix of a bunch of stuff that probably should not work together, yet they almost, sort of, do. 

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-Ben Pivoz