When Monopoly Crushes Free Market, Using The Weakness Of Human Solidarity

We have to accept the lesson of humiliation, we should start from this lesson, and build on it
Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, (July 16th 2015)

The story told in this film is set in a small fishing village on the east coast of Sicily not far from Catania. It focuses on a typical destiny of Valastros family. We see the fishermen trying to revolt who are thrown by the system of economic injustice back into their everyday hardship, the dayworkers, bricklayers, young girls with their traditional dreams of marrying one day and by marital magic saved from inhumane living conditions, and we observe those who resourcefully and righteously exploit others.

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Luchino Visconti during shooting “La Terra trema/The Earth Trembles”

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Luchino Visconti is behind the camera (second from the left). To the right are the two main characters of the film, Ntoni and his younger brother Cola

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Ntoni’s sister is helping him get ready for the fishing boat calling to the sea. In the background, to the right, is Ntoni’s mother with the youngest daughters.

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Living room interior of a typical fisherman family’s house

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Ntoni’s little success as a small business owner makes it possible for him to plan his wedding with Nedda. Ntoni looks at Nedda, but she – at future marriage.

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Ntoni’s sisters dream about a better future

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Men of the family, including children able to work, returned home after a fishing trip

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The women and girls of Valastros family are worried as to why their boat hasn’t return yet in spite of a coming stormy night

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After losing their boat and almost all fishing equipment to the storm the fishermen of Valastros family who when they started their own business, stopped working for the middlemen-wholesalers, found themselves without income

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Ntoni had to sell whatever was left of his boat, but in spite of desperate situation was resisting to ask for a job from the same people he earlier rebelled against pursuing his dream of having his own business

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Ntoni in between his younger brothers who, together with him, suffer from abysmal poverty that has solidly settled in their life. Appreciate the intensity of the youngest brother’s gaze at Ntoni, silently suggesting that the time came to ask for job from their enemy, not as acceptance of their defeat but opening up a new space for the fight for their dignity.

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Ntoni (with his younger brother) had to come to the same wholesalers with whom he always fought for a decent, a just wage. He lost one battle, but he knows that there will be many hard battles ahead. He returns to work for those who exploit the fishermen but it doesn’t mean his surrender. He overcame his impulsive pride and is ready to continue to work, to live and to fight for human dignity. We see Ntoni on the left, the leader of wholesalers – to the right, and Visconti, with his arm on the camera, preparing to shoot the decisive scene.

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Visconti’s film depicts the human proclivity to exploit other humans by analyzing the situation of Sicilian fishermen living and working under a humiliating conditions of being exploited by the fish wholesalers-middlemen who fix the prices for fish and keep the fishermen in extreme poverty and hopelessness. When the main character of the film, Ntoni, made an attempt to start to sell his catch of anchovies himself – to detour the middlemen, his project to succeed as a small businessman clashes with the established corporate way of making business.

Exploitation of workers – people on the bottom of the production chain of goods, is not only a matter of exploiters’ economic calculation but intense psychological humiliation for the victims. The basic producer/deliverer of goods is locked in a situation of being either an idiot or a slave. The exploited person is either an idiot and doesn’t understand that he is fooled by those who exploit him and laugh at him, or he understands that he is treated like a retarded and accepts whole situation because he is a slave in essence and for him it is natural to live by appealing to the mercy of his masters. But for the mentally normal person (with intuitive sense for justice and injustice) it is inhuman, impossible, a maddening choice breaking the very spine of one’s humanity. A human soul cannot agree to pretend that it is unable to understand the basic instances of injustice. It is natural and normal to rebel in this situation. But rebellion is either precluded or subdued, and human being is humiliated to a suicidal degree. That is the circumstances Ntoni and his uncle, mother, brothers and sisters are trapped in, when after the fiasco of their dream of becoming small businessmen operating in free market, and their further pauperization as a result, they look at the necessity to appeal to those very people who habitually exploit them and other fishermen – to beg these people to take them back into humiliating dependence on exploiters.

In this situation to accept defeat not as a constellation of personal circumstances but as the unjust economic status quo, is an incredible victory over sentimental perception of reality and over pride as a psychological defense against the truth. Ntoni is able to overcome himself and again become a worker for masters-wholesalers not because he thinks that he was wrong but exactly because he knows that he is right. With his return to being as if-idiot and as if-slave he opens a new round of future fight for changing the way economic reality is made to function. And his younger brothers learned from him the wise – rational approach in their fight for fairness. Success of such a sublime fight requires a psychological maturity – it has to be purified from impulsive reactions rooted in pride, righteousness and intolerance.

For one of Ntoni’s brothers, Cola, it is already too late – in despair he runs away from their unbearable situation to start a new life somewhere else – on the usual: conformist conditions demanding from human being adaptation and obedience compensated by moral tricks and professional frauds. It is at this juncture that the exploited open themselves to corruption leading to the anthropological mutation of the poor into mindless consumerists and worshippers of the wealthy.

At the end of the film we see the triumphant wholesalers’ “celebration of new boats” (the equivalent of today’s media events glorifying the rich decision-makers as benefactors), enlargement of wholesalers’ “production facilities” for the sake of “being able to employ more people” (like today’s American conservatives’ idea of “people’s right to work” which means to work without the right for decent salary, better working conditions and without unions that can help to achieve justice).

Visconti emphasizes that the fishermen talk exclusively about their work and their limited and elusive money, much like today’s Americans – under the hammer of austerity, after all those years of prosperity that were available to them during democratic times. The role of amorous life in such an oppressing living conditions, according to the director, becomes purely compensatory. The appearance of a girl – her looks, is not important, also like her particular character/personality. She is perceived as a whole, as a generalization, as light is for twilight, as sky is for soil. She is perceived by the guys like a piece of eroticized imagination among all the dark and hard things constituting the reality. As the fishermen’s saying has it: “A man exists to be caught by a girl, just as fishes of the sea are made for those who catch them.” Appreciate the fishermen’s gallantry here – they lend their, fishermen identity to the girls while for themselves they borrow the identity of the fish.

Marriage for the poor fishermen is the only way to get the feeling that they are rooted in life, that they are somebodies – for them participation in marriage gives them a standing in society – the chance to respect themselves. In other words, love in this conditions doesn’t have an independent value. It is in the shadow on marital prestige.

Posted on Nov, 3, ’15 –   “La Terra Trema/The Earth Is Trembling/The Earth Trembles/Will Tremble” (1948) By Luchino Visconti by Acting-Out Politics