VENICE : Circus freaks fight Nazi occupiers in Italian director Gabriele Mainetti's dark fantasy movie "Freaks Out", which is competing for the top prize at the Venice Film Festival.
Set in 1943 Rome, the film tells the story of four circus performers - each with their own peculiar characteristic - left to their own devices when the city is bombarded and their Jewish boss disappears.
The four are a wolfman, a dwarf attracting iron like a magnet, an electric girl who gives shocks to anyone touching her, and an insect-taming albino.
They end up in a rival circus run by Franz, a frustrated Nazi with six-fingered hands who can predict the future and wants to use their super powers to help prevent Hitler's demise.
"Freaks Out" is Mainetti's second film after his well-received, offbeat 2015 superhero movie "They Call Me Jeeg", and took longer and more money to make than originally expected, partly because of the strong visual effects.
In production notes, he said his latest work was at once an adventure story, a coming-of-age tale and a reflection on diversity.
"We were drawn to the idea of mixing together freaks with a strongly conflictual element such as the Nazis," Mainetti told reporters after a screening on Wednesday.
"The characters are frightened and cowardly at first, but then they manage to bring out the best of themselves, and that's their real super power."
Venice festival chief Alberto Barbera said the film has echoes of the works of two Italian cinema greats - Federico Fellini and Sergio Leone.
But Mainetti also drew inspiration from Tod Browning's 1932 horror movie "Freaks" and 1939 musical "The Wizard of Oz."
Acclaimed German actor Franz Rogowski stars as the Nazi pianist turned circus manager alongside Italy's Claudio Santamaria, whose hirsute wolfman Fulvio looks like Star Wars' Chewbacca, and newcomer Aurora Giovinazzo playing electric girl Matilde.
"Freaks Out" is one of five Italian movies vying for the Golden Lion award in the 21-film competition line-up at this year's Venice festival, which ends on Saturday.
(Reporting by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)