‘The Man Without Gravity’ soars

Wednesday, November 6, 2019 - 5:26pm

'The Man Without Gravity'

'The Man Without Gravity' Buy this photo
Netflix

“The Man Without Gravity” is a fantasy film with the least amount of fantasy possible. It begins with Oscar, the titular “man,” born in a tiny Italian village. Right out of the womb, he floats in the air like a balloon and doesn’t stop. His mother and grandmother are awestruck, calling it both a gift from God and something out of an American movie. 

This is the first instance of the film’s intoxicating blend of classic fantasy and modern day. It frequently compares the stereotypical “fable” with its modern versions: superhero stories, reality television and tabloid news. Oscar’s miraculousness aside, his family raises him inside their house and away from prying eyes. The fantastical conflict doesn’t have wizards, orcs or goblins. Instead, Oscar, played by Pietro Pescara when he is little and Elio Germano (“Lucia’s Grace”) when he’s an adult, battles the universal trial of being different in a hostile world. 

The effects used to make Oscar float are top notch. Seeing Oscar drift in and out of frame is one of the year’s greatest cinematic pleasures. To walk normally, Oscar wears a backpack filled with weights, just one of the small but fascinating ways that “The Man Without Gravity” gives its fantasy real weight, juxtaposing ethereal magic with mundane facts of life. The most fantastical elements of the film, though, are its most human: colorful Italian villages, distant fireworks and the simple act of holding someone’s hand. 

Oscar grows up watching Batman cartoons and believes that his powers make him a superhero, too. His mother agrees and says that, like Bruce Wayne, he has to keep his identity a secret. Oscar is human, though, and eventually goes out into the world. Venturing out on his own, he meets Agata (Jennifer Brokshi), a young girl who falls in love with Oscar and his powers.

These early scenes soar with naivety and hope, capturing the pure imagination and joy that only kids can feel. It’ll make anyone yearn for a simpler time when differences seem to mean nothing. 

Decades pass without any heraldry, or even notice, with simple jump cuts throwing the viewer into another time in Oscar’s life. It ingeniously mirrors life, as the years go by without one realizing. The film uses multiple actors for both Oscar and Agata, as well as heavy makeup to age other characters, both of which are completely convincing. 

As Oscar grows older, things become more complicated. He has to choose how he will live. Will he hide his exceptionality, like his mother begs him to, or share it with the world, like in his daydreams? Eventually Oscar leaves seclusion and tries to navigate the modern world, where his antigravity begins to seem less like a gift and more like a condition.

There are no epic quests or giant battles in this fantasy. There’s just one man and a multitude of difficult choices. Being different isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and “The Man Without Gravity” does not shy away from this. Prejudice and exploitation are abundant in the lives of people deemed “other” by the masses. There is no school of magic or valiant fellowships when living on society’s edges, and Oscar encounters some of modern society’s worst — how it treats the marginalized. 

“The Man Without Gravity” is a fantastical concept but mirrors very human dilemmas, a story that could take place anywhere, and will affect everyone, everywhere. At one time or another, everyone has felt alone in the world. Oscar is less a superhero and more a beleaguered man just trying to get through life like everyone else and suppress what makes him different. Yet “The Man Without Gravity” argues that, for better or worse, our distinctions are what make us so magically human.