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Bernardo Bertolucci

The film is dedicated to the question of how socio-political truth is transferred from one historical period to another, from one generation to the future generations. Bertolucci here is not interested in easier topics for understanding, including what’s happening when the present (conservative) elites manipulate the political realities of the past, twisting the messages from previous generations in order to shape the public opinion about their country’s legacy and future through propaganda (it is a situation prevailing in both, traditional totalitarian systems and today’s Western post-democracies). Bertolucci focuses on a much less investigated problem – how progressive: democratic messages are transferred from the previous generation to the next, how the heroic legacy of fight for a humanistic future finds itself at home in the perception of our children and grandchildren.

The grown up son of a popular anti-fascist hero Athos Magnani murdered by the fascists, visits the little town where his father lived and died, by the invitation of his father’s mistress. Athos Magnani Jr. has come without any intention to investigate the death of his father (he, like everybody else, believed in officially formulated version that his father was killed at the hands of the fascists) – he came to pay his respects to his father’s achievements and destiny and because of his curiosity towards the place where Athos-the Elder lived. But odd behavior of Draifa, his father’s mistress, and the puzzling impressions from his father’s previous comrades in arms still alive and ready to share with the son of their friend details about his character and views, made the young Athos to feel doubts in the reliability of the official story of his father’s life, and create in him the urgency to discover truth about what really happened to him. Step by step Athos-the Younger became suspicious about the story of his father’s murder. Something in the behavior of his father’s comrades – their emotional avoidance mixed with righteous rhetoric, forces him to dig deeper. When he discovered that the fascists had nothing to do with his father’s murder, he started to think not only in terms of “who might have done it?” but to try to discover his father’s real intentions, desires and tasks – information which could shed light on the circumstances of his life and the facts of his behavior.

Bertolucci builds the film on parallel montage of Athos-the elder’s life and his son’s efforts to understand it, that suggests that their particular relations to the truth and their responsibility in front of it, makes them similar – people of heroic seriousness who care about what’s happening with human life in politico-philosophical sense and about human history and not just dedicated to their private lives as the majority of people do. The film suggests that creation of the gulf between generations, as we see today when entertainment and chase after “survival” isolate people from their past and present, is one of the pernicious strategies to weaken the very organism of historical process. The shrinking of historical education in American public schools, for example, is a very alerting indicator of developing conservative attack on history itself and transforming the younger generation into creatures from nowhere who are locked inside an artificially created “today” of “success” and consumption, creatures from whom their future as determined by them is taken away.

Observing the lives of the both Magnanis, the viewers begin to grasp that father and son have different although congruent tasks: the first – how to find the most effective way of fighting fascism, and the second – what are the concrete problems his father was facing and tried to resolve and how similar they are with the tasks confronting new human generations. Athos-the son came to the conclusion that the main obstacle his father encountered – is the impossibility to fight fascism with people like father’s comrades in arms – people with democratic sensibility but who are not able to fight against fascist evil, who psychologically are not fighters, who while not sympathizing with fascist treatment of people and the world, are unable to participate in anything more than just political chats with one another. Athos-the father understood that the only way to be successful against the fascist establishment is personal martyrdom, and he was ready for his self-sacrifice and created the anti-fascist ideology based on his death.

Observing today the disastrous inability of the American democrats to fight with neo-con establishment that starts to implement a massive program of austerity for American people we start to understand what Bertolucci was able to grasp much earlier, several decades ago – that with democrats like friends of Athos-the elder and the most today’s Democratic politicians the political fight not only cannot be successful but it cannot even be real.

It is the task of all the post-WWII generations to understand the experiences of Athos Magnani-the hero-antifascist together with his son and Bernardo Bertolucci, and invent other ways to be successful in the political fight for humanistic/democratic agenda.

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Athos-the son starts to doubt the official – grandiose myth of his father’s heroism

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Again and again Athos comes to the bust of his father in the town square to understand better his own destiny.

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Athos-the son tries to comprehend Draifa – what is her game, what is she with all her sincerity up to? For Bertolucci Draifa is personification of modern society’s unnatural tendency to ignore and forget the historical process of human liberation as a part of humankind’s destiny.

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Athos-the father is taking stance against the fascists at a city event by daring to dance to the music of an anti-fascist song

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Father-Athos’ friends – Costa, Rasori and Caibazzi try to frighten Athos-the younger as they tried to do before with his father.

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This is paradigmatic posture of Athos Magnani-the hero – attempt to invent the real – an effective way of putting up a fight against extremist conservative establishment, a determination which, according to Bertolucci’s film, Athos’ son and all of us in 21st century must be able to inherit

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