Thursday, June 13, 2013

La Cina è vicina / China Is Near

IT 1967. D: Marco Bellocchio. This print 109 min. A Cineteca Nazionale (Roma) print viewed with e-subtitles in English at Koulu / The Kitisenranta School, Sodankylä (Midnight Sun Film Festival), 13 June 2013

In the presence of Marco Bellocchio interpreted by Elina Suolahti.

The Festival Catalogue: "Like Fists in the Pocket, also China Is Near features a chilling landscape that reflects a petty, unwell and introverted community, in which the modes of behaviour repeat themselves with a viral resilience. All rebellion is doomed to fail and there is no room for revolutionary thought."
   "The film tracks the efforts of middle-class Vittorio to succeed in the local election. Perhaps the greatest of all adversaries is his underage little brother. Camillo is a profound supporter of the Maoist ultra left wing, but still he does not manage to shake the foundations of power by violent means. Bellocchio gives the theme of a failed revolution - a kind of an impotence of the ideological side of life - a pronouncedly satirical form, which is coloured by radical shock effects, such as the idea of an ailing, underage girl being gang raped as a politically justifiable manoeuvre. During the making of the film, Mao's ideology was strongly present also in Italy as a consequence of the Chinese Cultural Revolution that began in 1966. The dual plot of the film is partly melodramatic and partly political, concerning both class divisions and party politics."
   "Clodagh J. Brook wrote a book on the director, defining the fascinating and multi-dimensional result as follows: ”If we did not know that Bellocchio was a left-wing sympathizer, this film could easily be read as a piece of anti-left propaganda - showing the left as fragmented, ineffectual, and morally hypocritical.”"
(Lauri Timonen)

In his words for introduction Marco Bellocchio stated that "this film is entirely different than Fists in the Pocket. It is about politics, in modo diverso, in another way, quasi farsesca, farcically. Fists in the Pocket is a tragedy, China Is Near is a farce. From the Italian political parties it deals with the entire Left. Around 1966 there was a Socialist party, a Communist party, and a Maoist extremist party. I hope you will be able to navigate. I hope it will not be boring."

Bellocchio stayed to see the film, and commented afterwards: "It has been a long time since I have seen this movie myself. The events discussed here may be rather unknown for you. At that time there was still class struggle in Italy. There was a petit-bourgeoisie, a working-class, and an aristocracy. The situation has changed. The political parties reflected the current class struggle which hardly exists anymore. This comedy farce deals only with the Left, the four Leftist groups. It was released in 1967, shortly before the great protests of the student movements, which also led to terrorism among certain groups. The Maoist group was tiny and had rather a folkloristic character back then. First later came the period of violent terrorism."

Q: The reception? A: "It was a success with the audience. It dealt with political conflicts in a juicy fashion. Also critics lauded the movie. Outside Italy the success was more limited than had been the case with Fists in the Pocket".

Q: The name of the movie? A: "It was the name of a book, written by a journalist, and I asked for permission to use it. It was a slogan of a tiny group. The Maoist slogan does not correspond to reality - it is irrational, absurd, paradoxical - it was not a threat. And of course, in Italian prononciation, the title is a rhyme - La CINA è viCINA."

"The Miniature Schnauzer was in fashion with sophisticated families. The actress who played Elina had brought her own dog to the set, and that's how it was introduced into the movie."

"The Leftist parties had already given up on their radical, revolutionary demands, and become more focused on matters of administration."

"The entire party system has changed in Italy. There is not a trace of the traditional party system. Partito Democratico is the only traditional party, founded after the Communist Party."

"A social mission for a film was a way of thinking in the 1960s, but I think differently. For instance in Bella addormentata I was not thinking about a message about euthanasia."

Q: Did the print do justice to the film? A: "Unfortunately it was very mediocre, and did not convey the work of the great cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli."

I have no way of knowing how much of this movie is a caricature and how much it reflects reality. The central figure, Vittorio, is a Socialist professor who seems to be a stranger in his own life. The middle-class compagno openly admits in a party event that he has already been active in four parties.

Much of the action is sabotage. There is a riot in a political speech event; the professor loses his temper in a revelatory way when a rascal boy steals his notes; in the ensuing riot the professor's car is demolished. There is a sequence with a time bomb; it explodes without harming people. In the conclusion big dogs are introduced into the party conference, and a cat is installed on the professor's shoulder...

The private lives of Vittorio and his sister are a mess. Vittorio seduces his secretary Giovanna. Elena is well-known for her ways of free love, but their accountant Carlo makes her pregnant, and although there is a sequence in an abort clinic, Elena decides to keep the baby. Inspired by this, Giovanna gets pregnant, too (by Carlo), and lets Vittorio think the baby is his. Thus both Giovanna and Carlo marry themselves into the family mansion.

Camillo, the teenage brother of Vittorio and Elena, is a Maoist, but it is rather a matter of pranks and quirky ideas about "sex as politics". There is an affinity with the world of Godard's La Chinoise in this dimension of the movie.

In the character of Vittorio there are affinities with Tony (Edward Fox) in The Servant. Also here the "servants" are the more vital and focused characters.

In the funny conclusion Elena and Giovanna perform exercises for expecting women together.

Like in Fists in the Pocket, the commento musicale by Ennio Morricone introduces an interesting dimension, and also here there is a strong opera theme, a big crowd scene from one of the epic operas of Giuseppe Verdi as Vittorio and Elena visit their opera box. The room echo of the post-synchronization has a distancing effect.

The visual quality of the print: low definition, duped look, not quite sharp.

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