BFI London Film Festival Day 2 – Terry Gilliam’s mind comes alive in 19 minutes thanks to The Wholly Family

13 Oct

It takes a lot of guts to find a talent as huge as Terry Gilliam, hunt him down via Google maps to his holiday home in Naples and convince him to shoot a film to promote a pasta brand by luring him with a box of said food. Is that as far-fetched as Gilliam’s mind – maybe – however, that is exactly what Garofalo pasta did a couple of years ago. As a result we have The Wholly Family. A film which was turned away from the Chicago Film Festival for being a result of extreme product placement, however welcomed with open arms at the London Film Festival.

Knowing that Gilliam’s mind is full of weird and wonderful journeys of exploration, I walked into the screening wondering how he’d be able to restrain his creativity into just one 19 minute short. The moment we see the opening panning down shot of a Naples street however, we knew something special was about to happen. The thing with Gilliam’s vision is that it has no boundaries and when the brief was to include food and exclude any killings or people dying (pasta makes us happy don’t forget!) he was like a horse galloping off the starting blocks onto a winning race.

The story itself covers a day and a night in the life of an ‘American’ family on holiday in Naples. I have the inverted commas here because due to the continental casting the mother is Italian, father English and together they produce an American son. To any other director this just wouldn’t work, however to Mr Gilliam when addressed in the Q&A after, he quite simply said – Fuck It! He liked the boy he cast – there was just something special about this kid who had never been in even a school play, and he just happened to be American. For this you cannot help but love Terry Gilliam.

During their walk down the typically Italian street the boy comes across a pulcinella (a Punch doll – as in Punch and Judy) and the fantastical street seller reminds the spoilt little boy that it is bad luck to buy one for yourself, but if you steal it to give to someone else it brings good luck – and as one can predict the child quickly manages to pilfer the doll and that night whilst dreaming embarks on a dream world which can only be described as a cross between the animation of Gilliam’s Monty Python and The Time Bandits. The result – an enthralling remaining 15 minutes of some of Gilliam’s most playful work (which does include a fair element of pasta) and ends with a strong moral anecdote.

I laughed out loud and forgot where I was for the duration of this film, it’s a rollercoaster ride of Gilliam’s highly imaginative mind, and having been filmed in only one week shows you just what a genius this man is. He’s also very charming and down to earth as I found in the interviews following the screening – which made the whole experience all the more fascinating.


Its playing as part of the London Film Festival’s short film line up and is most certainly worth your attention so please go watch, you will not be disappointed, it’s quite the opposite.

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