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Lubo | 2023 Venice Film Festival Review

Lubo | 2023 Venice Film Festival Review

Children of a Lesser God: Diritti Highlights Swiss War Crimes in Prolonged Drama

The actual history being explored in Giorgio Diritti’s three-hour drama Lubo is fascinating, and on paper would promise to be an exceptionally agonizing and important recuperation of victimization in Switzerland during WWII (especially as it’s balanced on the shoulders of Franz Rogowski). Unfortunately, Diritti’s penchant for old fashioned storytelling drifts a bit languorously across a twenty year time period in Mario Cavatore and Freda Valla’s somewhat standard script. As a member of the nomadic Jenisch population in 1939, Grisons, Rogowski excels as a father hopelessly searching for his abducted children, relocated by officials set on exterminating his people through sinister eugenics programs while the Nazis’ rampage billows hatred across the border. Despite some slick identify theft film noir tropes, Diritti squanders this energy in the monotonous pacing before crash landing into condensed melodrama for the film’s inevitable dismal finale.

We’re barely introduced to Lubo Moser (Rogowski) and his family before local authorities seize him to be drafted for service at the country’s border. Shortly after, it appears this was also a ruse for his children to be abducted and relocated either to foster homes, or, if they were lucky, well heeled families believing they can provide better care for the children of a group they despise with considerable vitriol. A chance opportunity with a wealthy but dishonest Austrian leads Lubo to a vicious murder, decaptating the man and exchanging clothes and identity papers, assuming the persona of a fashionable trader named Bruno Reinert. Positioning himself amongst the vacuous elitists in the area, he romances the women who seem attracted to his charm, meanwhile professing a philanrophost spirit, allowing him to search local organizations housing children to find his kids. This proves to be futile.

Fastfowarding ten years, Lubo has now returned to the area as Bruno, having spent the post war years enjoying the fruits of the dead man’s career. He’s fallen in love with an Italian maid at a local luxury hotel, Margherita (Valentina Belle), who has a young boy, Antonio, whose own father left for military duty and never returned. Buying a home for them to move into, Bruno’s past catches up to Lubo when someone identifies him as the Jewish man charged with protecting wealthy Jewish family’s heirlooms, three of whom have survived. While avoiding a charge of murder due to lack of evidence, Lubo is sentenced to twelve years in prison. Margherita bears his son, Hugo, while he’s serving time, though he’s never able to communicate with her again.

It’s the third time lapse where Lubo‘s rather methodical pacing begins to stagnate, and as if sensing this fatigue, the finale suddenly begins to cut dramatic corners (such as a late staged reveal about one supporting character’s pedophilia, his fate quickly and conveniently dispatched thanks to natural causes). Rogowski is, once again, playing an unfairly impugned man thanks to intrinsic realities of his identity, and much like in Great Freedom (2021), finds the latter part of his life defined by imprisonment, a place he freely returns to ensure Antonio and Hugo are taken care of. However, it would seem another less dramatic option might have been available to him, at least based on the parameters established by the script.

Diritti informs us at the end credits of the Swiss government not being aware of the eugenics practiced against the Jinesh until 1972, with apologies and restitutions made in 1987. Not unlike Diritti’s 2020 biopic of maligned artist Antonio Ligabue, Hidden Away, stylistic choices seem to work against rather than assisting a compelling lead performance, this time around utilizing a running time meant to underline the gravity of the material which instead creates a cumbersome tonality.

Reviewed on September 7th at the 2023 Venice Film Festival – In Competition. 181 Mins


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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