Blu-ray Review: Filibus

STUDIO: Kino Lorber/Milestone | DIRECTOR: Mario Roncoroni | CAST: Valeria Creti, Giovanni Spano, Cristina Ruspoli, Mario Mariani, Filippo Vallino
RELEASE DATE: 10/12/21 | PRICE: DVD $19.89, Blu-ray $19.55
BONUSES: Five short films: Dutch newsreel, French comedy “Onésime et la toilette de mademoiselle Badinois,” an Italian travelogue, and the French comedy “Amour et science.” Also, the Italian feature film Signori giurati and two additional scores for Filibus composed by Donald Sosin.
SPECS: NR | 71 min. | Silent crime action mystery | 1.33:1 | monaural

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall 

One of the most unusual releases of 2021, Filibus is a cliffhanging feature (full title: “Filibus the Mysterious Air Pirate”) from 1915 that presents an Italian gender-switch on the French master-villains Fantomas and Arsene Lupin, while also spotlighting sci-fi elements including a “getaway” airship.

The plot of this adventure (the sole exploit of its heroine) finds super-thief Filibus (Valeria Creti) framing detective Kutt-Hendy (Giovanni Spano) for crimes she has committed. She “places” him in the vicinity of various crimes, including a daring robbery of diamonds that are inserted into the eyes of a cat statue. In the meantime, she infiltrates high society in the guise of Baroness Troixmond and also is courting the detective’s sister Leonora (Cristina Ruspoli) as Count de la Brive.

The promotion for this release describes it as “the most exciting, witty, feminist, steampunk, cross-dressing aviatrix thriller you’ll ever see!” One of the most fascinating aspects of the film, though, is that scripter Giovanni Bertinetti simply threw those elements into the stew without emphasizing them in any major way. Gender switches and futuristic modes of travel are just tools used by Filibus and aren’t on display as “scandalous” plot elements. This no doubt comes from Bertinetti’s literary career, where he was identified with the Futurist movement as he wrote science-fiction tales and adventure stories for children.

The low-budget production company that made the film, Corona Films, was far from being a critics’ darling; Filibus was drubbed on its initial release in 1915. The years have been kind to the film and its gender-bending protagonist, however, and so Filibus received positive reviews as the print held in the EYE Filmmuseum in the Netherlands (in a new digitized version produced by Milestone Films) toured the film festival and repertory house circuit across Europe and the U.S. in the 2010s.

Four vintage shorts are included in the package, as they played with Filibus when it debuted in the Netherlands in 1916. A new video short explores the Jean Desmet collection at the EYE Filmmuseum, which housed the print of Filibus. Desmet was a film distributor who travelled across the Netherlands showing films from other European countries in a luxurious tent-theater.

Another offering from Corona Film, the 1916 drama Gentlemen of the Jury, is also included in the package. This film is a classic tale of duplicity that sports at least one sordid element (a cabaret called “The House of Forgetfulness” that is actually an opium den), but is primarily a tale of “love gone wrong” and betrayal, which ends (true to its title) with a court trial. The film’s major interest for those who enjoy Filibus is that the film’s star, Valeria Creti, appears in Gentlemen as well.

Buy or Rent Filibus

About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”