Thursday, March 11, 2004

Their Beauty Is His Protest 

That's Terrence Rafferty's description of the films of Francisco Rossi, an eighty-one year old Italian master who ought to be better known than he is.

Although once a favorite New Yorker movie reviewer, Rafferty disappeared from my radar into the pages of GQ; this article about Rosi I found two Sundays ago in the NYTimes, occasioned by the release on DVD of one of his greatest films, "Salvatore Guilano," reminded me why. (Unfortunately the article has disappeared behind the for cash wall)

Though this tale of an actual Sicilian bandit who aligns himself with the forces of reaction after WW2, (or does he?) is often sighted as the precursor of docudrama, and the progenitor of Costasgravas" "Z" and Oliver Stone's JFK, as Rafferty explains, the film is so much more than docudrama, by being so much less:

"Salvatore Giuliano" was Francesco Rosi's third feature as a director. He was close to 40 and had acquired such command of his medium that he could dare to tell this story without a hero, to pose this mystery without a solution and get away with it. The picture is full of dazzling set pieces — notably the May Day massacre, which is, in its very different style, worthy of comparison with the Odessa steps scene in "Potemkin" — and its shots are so eloquently plain that they seem simply to have composed themselves, out of sheer necessity. And "Salvatore Giuliano" manages to sustain an almost impossible balance of immediacy and reflection: it's such an exciting piece of filmmaking that you might not realize until the end that its dominant tone is contemplative, even melancholy.

Although ''Salvatore Giuliano'' takes the form of an investigation and teases us with the possibility of dire revelations, it appears not to have occurred to Mr. Rosi that the audience might expect an actual solution to the mysteries he unearths, or even that it would require some sort of detective figure to identify with.

Francesco Rosi has a different idea. For him, a film's political (and emotional) power doesn't depend on its ability to provide definite, nailed-down answers; asking the right questions is all that matters. In ''Salvatore Giuliano'' every small mystery breeds another, and then another, until, in the end, the mostly absent title character seems to be no more -- and no less -- than the sum of the questions we have about him: his ambiguity is his truth.

It seemed especially appropriate on that Sunday, when Haiti was ever again being reborn as perpetual tragedy, and/or being betrayed from without for the umpteenth time by powerful others, to remember Rosi, a film-maker whose chosen subject is "this poisonous climate of violence, secrecy and mistrust," and a film, that is "at heart, an epic about political instability and the emotional vertigo it creates."

And in looking for information and opinion about Haiti at Randy Paul's blog, "Beautiful Horizons," which he bills as "An atypical gringo's perspective on Latin America, human rights and other issues," perhaps it shouldn't have seemed as surprising as it felt at the time to find that Randy Paul had posted his own discussion of Franacisco Rosi, provoked by Rafferty's NYTimes piece, along with links that take you where you can purchase the individual films. Aside from Rosi, I discovered that Beautiful Horizons is worth regular visits for its unique point of view about a specialized but no less central slice of the world's humanity.

My favorite Rosi film "Christ Stopped At Eboli" at the center of which is a brilliant performance by the great Gian Maria Volonte, is also Mr. Paul's favorite, and luckily among those few that are available on DVD. Like all Rosi's later films, this one is no less political, and its contemplative style and resolute committment to acknowledging the complex texture of human experience no more an argument against political committment. Rosi's films have always stirred in me a rewnewed committment, while bearing witness to the folly of too great expectations, and too tight a grasp on moral certainty.

If there's not a whole lot of ideology in these films, as Rafferty reminds us, "there is more than a little truth."

corrente SBL - New Location
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