The Mysterious Cross-dressing Air Pirate of the Silent era Lands on Blu-ray 



It’s 1915, and the world’s greatest sleuth, Kutt-Hendy is passed out.  A mere moment ago, he had sat down to enjoy his breakfast on his exquisite outdoor balcony.  Then!  Just feet behind him, a large metal bucket containing a his masked nemesis- Filibus!–  lowers into frame.  Still unnoticed, the fiend handily tosses a knockout drug into his meal, and boom, he’s unconscious.  This enables the intruder to lay the groundwork for framing Kutt-Hendy (Giovanni Spano) for the crimes she’s going to commit!

That’s right! Filibus- The master criminal!  The great thief of the age!  The mysterious pirate of the air!  …is a woman!  Not much is known about Filibus (Valeria Creti, subtly alluring and never not competent in carrying this picture), least of which is her gender.  At fancy soirées and when meeting with important officials, she charms as the Baroness Troixmonde.  But when it’s time to blend into crowds in a different way, she takes on the male guise of Count de la Brive.  Both court respect, if not more.  The attention she seems most interested in, however, is that of Kutt-Hendy’s sister, Leonora.

That’s right! Filibus- The master of disguise!  The great infiltrator of the wealthy world!  The elusive pirate of the air!  …is a lesbian!  If she cannot catch the eye of Leonora as Troixmonde, she will do so as de la Brive.  Leonora is a key component in Filibus’s ongoing gaslighting of Kurt-Hendy, whom she’s managing to convince has committed all her elaborate heists in his sleep.  Leonora is captured by Filibus and rescued by Count de la Brive. (Also, Filibus).  It’s all laying the groundwork for the grand robbery of a pair of priceless Egyptian diamonds that are serving as eyes ensconced onto a large, ancient cat statue in the home of the rich collector, Leo Sandy.  The cat statue, while prominently displayed, is also enclosed behind glass.  Sandy, who’s also deeply in love with Leonora, will be throwing a fancy party at his place.  Count de la Brive is invited.  S/he secretly brings glass cutters.

This being part of the very early silent adventure niche focusing on fantastical villainous masterminds (the likes of which courted fun revivals in the 1960s with Judex and Fantômas… but not this one), Filibus wields a very spirited science fiction bent.  Not only are tiny, miniature cameras employed by the “good guys” in their exhaustive attempts to catch Filibus, but Filibus herself operates in the clouds out of a very small (as in, a glorified bathtub) open-topped airship.  The vessel is staffed by several matching henchmen; most of the scarce floor space is taken up by the large metal bucket mechanism.  It appears to be made of sheet metal and rivets.

That’s right! Filibus– The boundlessly entertaining lesser-known silent caper!  The great proof of cinematic progressivism 107 years ago!  Subtitled “The Mysterious Air Pirate”!  …is steampunk!

Well, let’s not get carried away.  Yes, the contemporary marketing of this revival of Filibus (sporting a beautiful, tinted transfer) has indeed been marketed as such.  In this provided publicity for university campuses and elsewhere, terms that didn’t exist in 1915 (some of which are found in this review, admittedly) such as “genderfluidity”, “feminist”, and “steampunk” are freely volleyed in efforts to lure the curious and the cool.  While the progressivism of Filibus speaks for itself, a distributor with a legitimately great silent film in 2021 or 2022 can’t be blamed for reaching for whatever trick arrows that may be in the quiver.  The bottom line is that people should get on board with Filibus.  


As slippery as the film’s title character is, even less may be known about the Italian potboiler’s director, Mario Roncoroni.  We do, however, know this: as The Great War was ramping up and cinema was entering its third decade, giving way to serialized escapism, Roncoroni saw fit to tell a tale of a feminist caper revolving around a cross-dressing thief who pulls the wool over the eyes of the celebrated crime-stopping elite.  All this courtesy of Italy, a country so often noted for its verbose machismo and authoritarianism.  Note that Filibus is named after Filibus, not detective Kutt-Hendy.

Filibus, if nothing else (and there’s plenty), is a sky-bound testament to the notion that cinema itself is an endless trove of potential discoveries.  Here we have an Italian visual effects-driven cat-and-mouse caper film that hinges on a female antihero pulling one over (or pulling two, or even three over) on a highly respected and famously successful male master detective.  Written by the future science fiction author Giovanni Bertinetti and directed with taut flair, Filibus outwits the tests of time at every twist.

Milestone Video’s Blu-ray edition of Filibus means business.  It presents not only three contemporary trailers for the film (which are rather hokey, but not without charm), but also a full “Warner’s night at the movies”-style program, replicating the on-screen program from back in the day.  Specifically, this short block of material recreates the original Netherlands opening of Filibus in 1916 with five short films.  They are:

  • A Dutch newsreel called “Laatste bioscoop wereldberichten” (1916), which showcases a plumed and marching military.
  • A hilarious French physical comedy from 1912 called Onésime et la toilette de mademoiselle Badinois.(Directed by Jean Durand).
  • A brief, pleasant, and hypnotically tinted Italian travelogue called Rapallo (1914).
  • A particularly odd French drama called Amour et science (M.J. Hoche, 1912).
  • An entire second feature film!  It being an accomplished Italian courtroom drama called Signori giurati (Giuseppe Giusti, 1916, Corona Films). It stars Fabienne Fabrèges, and most notably the Filibus actress herself, Valeria Creti.
  • Three seperate musical tracks!  The first (and default) score is by the famed Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.  All three tracks are worthy, though this one gets the edge.
  • The two additional Filibus scores are a piano track composed by Donald Sosin, one with a very fun female English-language vocal track over the opening titles sequence.  The song is not to be missed.