Thursday, November 22, 2007

Salvatore Giuliano

Salvatore Giuliano was a charismatic and much mythologised Sicilian bandit but those who come to Francesco Rosi's 1962 film about him looking for biographical information or learning about his adventures and exploits would be in for a serious disappointment. Even though the whole film is about him, Giuliano himself appears in the film only as a corpse! Elsewhere he is always in the shadows. Rosi deliberately leaves out any scope for psychologising or individual myth making. His concerns are far removed from that. He knows that it is not individuals and their inner life that count in modern-day politics but rather the complex and ever-shifting web of ties, affiliations and allegiances and it is these that his investigative camera tries to explore and unravel.

The film mostly skips the early life and career of Giuliano as a famed Outlaw and Sicilian separatist. It was only after his involvement in the massacre of group of peasants and workers participating in May day celebration at Porta Della Ginestra that the authorities really tried hard to get him. According to Rosi the police made his deputy kill him after persuading him that he will get a pardon from the state but later they not only rescinded on their offer but also denied any involvement. He also hints about a possible cover-up about Giuliano's relations with the members of right wing political party and possible motives behind the massacre, though none of it is spelled very clearly. Like almost all of the Italian filmmakers of his and the earlier generation Rosi was a committed leftist too. Much of the later film takes place in the courthouse, it was all a little too complex to follow. The film's structure itself is quite complex, it jumps back and forth in time with shifting points of view and many different characters.

The film was shot in real location. Many people who lived there and who knew Giuliano acted in the film. Some of them were even the survivors or the witness of the massacre. The reconstruction of the scene was reportedly so authentic that people who were supposed to be acting panicked, destroying some camera equipments in the process. A few words also about the cinematography. Every movie-buff (I mean the apartment-bound types) is familiar with Sicialian landscapes but you haven't really seen it unless you have seen the landscapes as photographed in this film. The cinematographer of the film was the great Gianni Di Venanzo whose filmography includes such classics as Fellini's 8 1/2 and L'Eclisse by Antonioni. The sun-drenched rocky landscape is put to an extremely evocative use. It is even better than The Godfather or L'Avventura.

In short a bit confusing and difficult to follow at times but still a remarkable and often startling work of political filmmaking. Also important since it influenced so many other great films - most significantly perhaps The Battle of Algiers which takes a similarly depersonalized and quasi-documentarian approach to political filmmaking. Good introductory articles from The New York Times and The Guardian


Szerelem said...

hmmm....this movie seems very interesting. While reading your post I kept thinking of Battle of Algiers and then I saw the last para :D

Btw, I just saw a most brilliant film "Gegen Die Wand" which I am reccomending to everyone most enthusiastically... shall try and write a post on it.

Alok said...

Oh Head-On! yeah agree it is a great film. I liked it very much too. His new film The Edge of Heaven is set in Istanbul so keep an eye on it :)

puccinio said...

Francesco Rosi is a great director, one of Visconti's disciples. It's interesting he made his great movies when Visconti was about to hit his slump.

His other great movies include ''Il Mattei Affair'' and ''Hands Across the City''. Rosi's ''Salvatore...'' was a big influence on American Cinema of the 70's as well as ''La Battaglia di Algeri''.

It was also made at a politically turbulent moment in Italian history. Bertolucci also arrived at that time making his great films like ''Prime della Rivoluzione'', ''Il Conformista'', ''Novecento'', ''Last Tango in Paris'', ''The Last Emperor''. It was a time for intelligent and entertaining political cinema. Sadly that's not there today even in Europe.

One of the worst aspects of Political Correctness is that everybody has to walk around eggshells and explain himself and make sure his movies ''don't take sides'' and what not. Basically they're not allowed to implicate the audience.

Even when Spielberg attempted to do it with ''Munich'', which is set in the same period and influenced by those films and achieved it with some success, he had to compromise a little and spell his message out clearly like including that conversation with the PLO guy and Eric Bana.

Alok said...

Agree with what you say about political-correctness. It is inconceivable now to have such great directors and indeed great artists as Rossellini, Visconti, Godard, Pasolini and others openly declaring their political allegiances in our time. This may be because what they call as living in the "post-ideological" age...

I love Bertolucci's first film La Commare Secca very much. The Conformist is a classic as well. But in many of his later films he wastes too much of his effor in just trying to make it "look" pretty.. it is generally devoid of content which is specially sad thinking of how he started in the golden age of Italian cinema, cinema which had a solid content in addition to style.

puccinio said...

But in many of his later films he wastes too much of his effor in just trying to make it "look" pretty.. it is generally devoid of content which is specially sad thinking of how he started in the golden age of Italian cinema, cinema which had a solid content in addition to style.

Well that's certainly true of all the movies he made in the 90's and his most recent film '''The Dreamers''' which made him an embarassment to survivors of May '68.

Actually what's Bernardo's problem recently is that he seems not to know what to say to this world. The kind of society we live in is emotionally insulated from the values that he was raised and believed in. That is to say we have become too materialistic and soulless. So he really doesn't know how to get people to think of the things which matter and is kind of lost is voice...a kind of cinematic laryngitis. Hopefully, he'll get it back.

I mean the genius that created ''The Spider's Strategem'', ''Last Tango in Paris'' and ''The Last Emperor'' can't have all gone...I mean on the strength of all his movies upto that film which had an astonishing Oscar victory he's among the most vital directors working today.