TIFF 2016: Mister Universo Review

Contemporary World Cinema 

This Italian documentary-fiction hybrid was a pleasure to watch. Directed by Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel, the film features non-actors lion tamer Tairo Caroli, acrobat Wendy Weber, and bodybuilder Arthur Robin. I believe they are basically playing themselves, but Tairo and Wendy’s quest to get a horseshoe lucky charm from Arthur is a fictional construct. I could be wrong, and it doesn’t matter. Just go for the ride.

This film is a celebration of a nearly extinct way of life, the lives led by travelling circus performers. Tairo travels Italy far and wide to replace the missing lucky charm he received from Arthur as a five-year old. On the way, he meets various family members and asks for information about Arthur – almost everyone has a story to tell, either about themselves or about Arthur, who was considered the Black Hercules in 1957 when he won the title of Mister Universe. I daresay he was very handsome then, and still is, as you may appreciate when he benches 50 lbs as a 87-year-old in this film and gives the slightly chubby Tairo advice on how to get in shape. 

The surprise about this film is that everyone has a talent, and yet, are very modest about it. You have to wait for Wendy’s show, but it’s worth it, and it’s evident that she loves Tairo a great deal – even if he does take her for granted. She’s also a better investigator than he is. I appreciated that the film shows some of Tairo’s imperfections – sometimes he is a bit too quick with his cutting and sarcastic jokes, and with the circus he currently works for, it appears that he doesn’t have many friends aside from the lions and his girlfriend, Wendy (he’s very lucky to have her) – but, of course, that could be dramatic license. It’s a joy to watch his interactions with his real-life family, as the real love really comes through in the film. 



Saturday Sept. 17, 3:30pm @ Scotiabank 10

Michael McNeely is a deaf-blind film critic and advocate for greater accessibility in our cinemas. Read more about his story here.