A Tale About A Victimized Hero Whose Halo Functions As A Mythological Consolation For Future Generations

Spider’s Stratagem Falsifies Historical Legacy So As To Absolutize Utopia Of The Past

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Athos Magnani (Giulio Brogi), a man neatly dressed, with a face thoughtful rather than decisive, has just left the shade of trees for an opened sunny space. Courage is part of his facial expression, but this courage is not a macho kind (for Athos to fight doesn’t necessarily mean with enemies, but for what he believes, for his ideals). Still there is no doubt that this person is a fighter. He is trying to awaken and organize a really massive and potent resistance to the fascists united under the leadership and authority of Benito Mussolini.

Pay close attention to the spot on his pants – What? Is Athos’ identity stained? It doesn’t seem so, when he is standing in the opened space under the light of the day. May be, this spot is just meaningless – casual and innocent. But, of course, it cannot be in Bertolucci’s film, where the smallest detail can be meant to help the viewers to grasp the deeper issues. Athos recently confessed to his friends – members, like Athos himself, of an underground anti-fascist organization, Costa, the owner of the opened air movie-theater (Tino Scotti), Rasori, the teacher (Franco Giovanelli) and Gaibazzi/Garibazzi, the salami maker (Pippo Campanini), in his cowardly betrayal of their common cause of their fight. And they resented him, felt contempt for him as a result and started to think what punishment he deserves, and Athos agreed to be punished.

For the most of the people the intelligence of the human face is suspicious, while simple-minded solemn positivity of the face (the attribute of the positive heroes of Hollywood Westerns and detective stories) suggests an absolute reliability of this person. But Bertolucci, as if, wants to “train” us to believe exactly human intelligence, not faces without contradiction, but faces with signs of problems a person is struggling with. The farther we get into the film the more it looks like that there is something wrong with Athos’ very confession in betrayal. May be the spot on the Athos’ pants does refer not to the problem with integrity of his personality, but to the… falsity of his confession? But why would a person want to destroy his own reputation among his own people?

The more we watch the more we see that Athos Magnani seems rational, civilized, a democratic man and, no doubt – a tough fighter against the anti-democratic forces carrying fascist banner. And something wrong is with his comrades in arms – Costa, Rasori and Gaibazzi. Step by step we see, that for them just membership in anti-fascist organization is enough to respect themselves. They are like American democratic politicians – they are ready to create progressive legislation but are not able to fight for new progressive laws in a real – risky, effective way. What Athos Magnani SR. was supposed to do in this hopeless situation? Who is then the real betrayer of anti-fascist organization, Athos or his hopelessly cowardly friends? But Athos not just lied about his betrayal, he has a plan how to help people of the future to fight with future incarnations of fascist ways of living, if it is impossible to effectively fight totalitarianism in his own time.

People of the future need to have a chance to believe in the heroes of the past and the progressive ideas created before them – the noble humanistic tradition. It is like the idea of American democracy which is so good and so strong that it is able to sustain itself even against new fascist attempts to subvert it. The problem here is that even powerful and morally noble humanistic tradition still cannot protect itself – itself, it still needs people like real Athos Magnani to stand for it against its ultimate enemy – the fascism with its ability to reincarnate again and again with all it attributes including inequality, cruelty and austerity for regular people. In the 21st century democracy is dissolving in front of our very eyes – the enemies of democracy are acting while democrats are even talking less and less and retreated in something like a “tactical-strategic” silence.

Here we come back to the spot on Athos Magnani Sr.’s identity. As a liberator he is a tragic figure. As a fighter against fascism he is futile – he understood that people, while suffer under fascism also try to adapt to it, collaborate with it. He agreed to be killed by his comrades in arms (and claim that the fascists did it) with the hope that he as a mythological hero-antifascist will help future generations of his country to fight for their rights. He came to the conclusion that the real fight with the decision-makers hooked on power and wealth is impossible until people don’t have another values than power and wealth against others. People more often than not support leaders who betray and exploit them because they can’t resist admiring them for their success (they dream to be like billionaires and generals – they believe that this kind of success is a sign of such people’s superiority). To fight with the rich today means for the today’s poor to fight with their own deepest and the most vital dreams. The film ends with the son of Athos Magnani (played by the same actor Giulio Brogi) who faces a similar dilemma which faced his heroic father. And we like Athos Magnani Jr. are confronting the task of uncovering the lies of history (the spider’s stratagem) and then we will find our way out and understand what we should do.

Posted on Nov 24 2014 – Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Spider’s Stratagem” (1970) – We In the 21st Century, Three Athos Magnanis And The Historical Process’ Spider’s Strategem (The Analysis of BB’s “SS”) by Acting-Out Politics

Posted on Jan 4 2015 – “Spider’s Stratagem” (1970) By Bernardo Bertolucci (based on a short story “Theme of the Traitor and the Hero” by Luis Borges) by Acting-Out Politics