Power | Zero hour | Piazza Fontana: The Italian Conspiracy
Jean-Luc Godard insisted that all movies were love stories. Of course, they are — but they are political stories as well.
Falsification of newsreels for the sake of politics is a long story to tell. The first case took place in 1897. The first propagandistic film — in 1898. First passionate «screen adaptatio» of a pressing political event — in 1899, the Dreyfus Affair. In 1913, agitation cinema is actively serving the World Revolution. In 1919, the whole national cinematography of Hungary is destroyed by Admiral Horthy in revenge for its flourishing under the aegis of Hungarian Soviet Republic, the first state in history to nationalize cinema, even before Soviet Russia.
Even though cinema and politics were initially inseparable, «political cinema» generally encompasses the period of 60s and 70s. Every self-respecting national liberation movement used to have its own cinematographic division, and chanting «camera is a weapon» as a magic spell made some filmmakers exchange their camera for a machine gun. Although the revolutionary euphoria of Paris barricades and Cheuevara’s Bolivian expedition had vanished into thin air, history didn’t stop, and revolutions never ceased. Most filmmakers have settled down, but passion and fury have shaped humans since the dawn of time, and what, apart from love can arouse passion and fury if not politics?
The point of this program is to check: does the political cinema still exist in the modern «global» world? Yes, it does. Does it keep to the traditions of its greatest period? The French are still true to the idea of «cinéma vérité», Italians still keep up the political thriller, the genre that brought them fame in 70s. Has it yielded to commercial demands? Naturally, it has. Does it recruit new fighters in the Third World? Of course it does, especially in Latin America, «the flaming continent» as it was once called by Roman Karmen.
And perhaps one of the points of the mere existence of cinema is to lend the epic dimension, the dynamism of the western, the absurdity of the burlesque and the sadness of the love story to such an unpleasant and cruel thing as politics.
Mikhail Trofimenkov, art critic, film and art historian
Ôîňî: Metropolis Film
Bahamas, late 1970s. The wheeler-dealers of the omnipotent and mystically non-transparent Vatican Bank, while waiting for a mysterious mister Kane decide offhandedly the fate of Italy, Nicaragua and Poland. Three years after most of them become prey not only for the police but also for their own associates.
Giuseppe Ferrara dedicated his film to the memory of Gian Maria Volonté. Working with Ferrara Volonté portrayed Vanzetti, Giordano Bruno and Lucky Luciano, and only once — in Caso Moro (1986) — he played a politician, kidnapped and assassinated by Red Brigades. However, being a political filmmaker Ferrara is a critic and educator in the first place. The book that made 25-year-old Ferrara famous — Il Nuovo Cinema Italiano (1957) — was translated and published in USSR the same year.
Perhaps it was this initial inclination to critique that formed Ferrara’s analytical manner of direction. He acts as an author and as a logician, he reconstructs and at the same time investigates hot on the track the tragedies that shocked Italy — deaths of Moro and others who opposed Mafia — general Dalla Chiesa (One Hundred Days in Palermo, 1984), detective Giovanni Falcone (1982). Ferrara’s favourite hero is a lone ranger, The Bankers of God is an exception to the rule. The antihero of Italy dubbed The Banker of God was the president of the Ambrosiano Bank Roberto Calvi, who was laundering Mafia money, and financing (hand in hand with the CIA) the ultra-right movements all over the world, as well as terror and conspiracy in Italy itself.
This film is Calvi’s chronicle of a death foretold. He turned out weak, nervous and too humane to be a part of the shadow power. In 1981, when the police obtained the membership list of the Masonic lodge «P 2», Calvi was found in a noose under a London bridge. However, his death changed nothing. The detective in the film notes (a rare example of Ferrara’s cynical moralization): «Italy is always ready to surprise you. At times you think that it’s the end of the world and then suddenly it’s all fine again».
1970. The rage of violence brings young German radicals to a «nervous breakdown». Brilliant journalist Ulrike Meinhof, handsome marginal Andreas Baader, and film director Holger Meins had recruit training in a PLO camp and start the urban guerrilla of the legendary Red Army Fraction (RAF).
By the beginning of the 21st century Europe’s wounds from the left-wing radical underground of the 70s had healed enough for filmmakers to dare reconstruct its history, yet not enough to prevent the outbreak of public indignation and reproach for romanticizing and rehabilitation of terrorists. It’s particularly true for Germany where it’s unthinkable to have an ex-terrorist write a script or direct a film about their past like they do in Italy and Japan. Though RAF actions didn’t take many lives, its leaders who died in detention have been disproportionately demonized.
Perhaps the reason for this is that the society is subconsciously ashamed of its virtually totalitarian reaction to RAF attempts; such reaction couldn’t but convince the «red army soldiers» in the unspent Nazi nature of their country. Edel aggravated his «fault» — which was filming the RAF story — with making it an epopee and making it luxurious. This is, however, completely adequate to the plot of the film — most RAF fighters came from the circle known as «luxury leftists».
In this blockbuster featuring best German actors one skirmish is furnished with so much shooting that all RAF actions taken together never used that many bullets. Besides that, Uli Edel has an unjust reputation of a troublemaker and a speculator on hot topics. He filmed the best-seller novel of 13 year-old drug-addict Christiane F. (1981) and a «wanton» Hubert Selby Jr.’s novel Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989), to say nothing of the sex-thriller Body of Evidence (1989) featuring Madonna.
Nevertheless, Der Baader Meinhof Komplex is far from scandalous: Uli Edel’s film matches all the criteria of historical drama. The only problem is that the events of 1970s just refuse to become a part of history.
Ôîňî: Kuiv Productions
François Hollande, the seventh president of the Fifth Republic is struggling through the haughty gates of the Élysée Palace, stoically withstanding ironic glances cast at him from the portraits of de Gaulle and Mitterand, and seems to be convincing himself that he is not daydreaming, he really is a president.
This documentary diary of the first year of presidency of the first socialist president in the last 17 years can be called a model cinéma vérité, without the obscure author’s offscreen commentaries or obtrusive ideological editing. Patrick Rotman is somehow blessed by a great photographer, one of the pillars of cinéma vérité, the founder of Gamma, the seventy-year-old Raymond Depardon: the prologue of the film shows Hollande pushed around by Depardon during the photo shoot.
It’s all the more amazing because Rotman is not a professional filmmaker but a well-known historian and writer, among other things he published (in co-authorship with Herve Hamon) a number of fundamental studies on the riots of 1950s and 60s: The Suitcase Carriers (1979) and Generation (1988). However, the big-time policy appears only once — Hollande expresses his concern about possible Taliban attacks on French convoys in Afghanistan and gets a comforting answer from the Minister of Defense: yes, they’ve been doing it for quite a long time. The film crew was admitted to the president’s palace but not to the strategic meetings, not that the crew really needed it.
For Rotman, Hollande is interesting not as a socialist president, even not as the president as such, but as a person who finds himself president and plays the role of a president. Rotman tries to find out if the person vested with supreme power in one of the leading countries — elected thanks to the image of «an average Frenchman» — is adequate for the «monarchica» model of republic invented by general de Gaulle. And this model implies a hero or a villain living in Élysée Palace but not an «average Frenchman», which turns neutral and even sympathetic filming of President’s everyday life into a powerful political pamphlet.
Ôîňî: Centro Nacional Autnomo de Cinematografa, Centro Nacional Autónomo de Cinematografía
An infernal-looking teenager, a killer from Caracas slums, takes hostage the staff and patients of a hospital: his pregnant girlfriend is seriously wounded but as ill luck would have it, all the doctors in the city have gone on general strike. Thanks to the television, the boy not only gets his fifteen minutes of fame, but becomes something next to a new Messiah.
La hora cero is Diego Velasco’s first feature film. However this young director has already shot five short films that brought him 26 awards at 50 festivals, and his work at sitcoms helped him study the ins and outs of TV production. That came in very useful while filming La hora cero.
At first, La hora cero stuns with its brutality and the primeval simplicity of its heroes. But Velasco plays with us, his genre preferences seem to be dancing a waltz, no matter how crazy this metaphor may sound: waltzing to the whistle of bullets.
What begins as a brutal action movie imperceptibly turns into a pamphlet mocking the nature of television. Yet before the viewer begins to suspect that he watches an avatar of Natural Born Killers, the pamphlet turns out to be a parable about a nation in search of its hero, and the miraculous transformation of a vulgar murderer into such a hero. And in the end, Velasco directs the course of events to the field of a political thriller.
And above all, the film — with all its conventionality — is a chance to breathe the air of Venezuela. With all its problems (doctors’ strike really took the country by the throat in 1996), with an unthinkable level of street violence (which claimed victims in the cinema community as well) and with a thing hardly imaginable but completely organic to Latin Americans — the faith in the kingdom of God on Earth. The main hero is nothing like Hugo Chavez, yet it was due to that faith that Chavez himself became a president (and among other things, did many things to support the national cinema).
Piazza Fontana: The Italian Conspiracy
Romanzo di una strage
Director: Marco Tullio Giordana
Producers: Fabio Massimo Cacciatori, Marco Chimenz, Giovanni Stabilini
Cast: Valerio Mastandrea, Pierfrancesco Favino, Michela Cescon
When a bomb explodes on December 12, 1969 at Milan headquarters of National Agrarian Bank killing 17 people, Commissioner Calabresi has no doubts who to blame: the anarchists. The police charge Pinelli who falls or is thrown out of the window during the interrogation. As for the mastermind of the conspiracy, they are certain it was a millionaire publisher named Feltrinelli.
Ôîňî: Babe Film
Sad to say, but a more accurate translation of the title would be A Novel of One Slaughter. Meaning «one of many». In 1970s, the word «strag» («slaughte») took root in everyday speech of Italians and soon got a new and horrible meaning. «Slaughte» — means blind, impersonal, anonymous crimes filling the nation with irrational horror and clearing the way for a dictator-redeemer. Explosions at banks, trains, railway stations; grenades thrown at anti-fascist protesters. In 1969-1984, Italy went through six hecatombs like this: 143 people died, 813 were wounded.
The Milan explosion was the first link in this chain. However, it is noteworthy that Giordana doesn’t focus on reconstruction of the explosion itself though it would be a spectacular, shocking episode. The whole scene is just some rumble at the background and a bit of smoke. Yet in other Giordana’s films political crimes against the individual are thoroughly reconstructed whether it be the death of Pier Paolo Pasolini (Pasolini, an Italian Crime, 1995) or Impastato, the oddish anti-mafia activist (The Hundred Steps, 2000).
Perhaps the death of 17 people didn’t deserve such honour, and that seems logical. A bomb can’t but explode in the atmosphere of the «Hot Autumn»: workers’ strikes and students’ riots; both the police and the anarchists are worn out with mutual hatred and foreboding of civil war; the underground swarms with double agents and neofascists (who ended up to be responsible for the slaughter) resort to the ’strategy of tension’ which plunged Italy into a decade of terror that will remain in history as «years of lead».