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Center for Global Justice Presents Two Italian Films on Fascism

By Gregory Diamant

The Center for Global Justice is proud to present two Academy Award-winning films that despite being made nearly 30 years apart from each other, share a setting in the 1930s–1940s and were directed by Italian filmmaking greats.

First up is Bernardo Bertolucci’s masterpiece, The Conformist (Il Conformista) from 1970, based upon the novel of the same name by Alberto Moravia. It is beautifully played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, Stefania Sandrelli, and Dominique Sanda.

The film is a case study in the psychology of conformism and fascism: Marcello Clerici is a bureaucrat—cultivated and intellectual, but largely dehumanized by an intense need to be “normal” and to belong to whatever is the current dominant sociopolitical group. He had an upper-class childhood and perhaps a dysfunctional family. He suffered a major childhood sexual trauma and an episode of gun violence in which he long believed (erroneously) that he had killed his chauffeur.

He accepts an assignment from the fascist secret police to assassinate his former mentor, living in exile in Paris. In Trintignant’s characterization, Clerici is willing to sacrifice his values in the interests of building a supposedly “normal life.”

According to the political philosopher Takis Fotopoulos, The Conformist is “a beautiful portrait of this psychological need to conform and be normal at the social level, in general, and at the political level in particular.” It is beautifully shot and edited, a visual masterpiece that influenced many directors in the 1970s and beyond.

Our next selection, Life is Beautiful (La vita e bella), is a 1997 Italian comedy-drama directed by and starring Roberto Benigni. Benigni’s character is an Italian Jewish patriarch who is rounded up and sent to a Nazi concentration camp with his wife and young son. In order to hide the reality of their horrific situation from his son and somehow survive, the father pretends that their whole experience in the camp is a game and that at the end of the game the son, if he succeeds, will win a tank.

It is not easy to mix the Holocaust with humor, and some criticism of the film highlights that conundrum, even though the film also seems to sidestep politics in favor of human ingenuity. However, the urge to survive in the most terrible of circumstances plays out in the film as the most important imperative.

Both films make us think critically of our present situation. We have camps at the US border, and we can also see the societal pressures to conform that can twist our personalities but may yet lead to resistance.

The Conformist will be shown at the Biblioteca’s Teatro Santa Ana on Wednesday, July 31, at 11am. Admission is 70 Pesos. Life is Beautiful will be shown at the Teatro Santa Ana on Thursday, August 1, at 11am. Admission is 70 pesos.

 

Film

The Conformist (Il Conformista) (1970)

Wed, Jul 31, 11am

Teatro Santa Ana

Reloj 50A

70 pesos

 

Film

Life is Beautiful (1997)

Thu, Aug 1, 11am

Teatro Santa Ana

Reloj 50A

70 pesos

Life is Beautiful

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