Marco Bellocchio’s revolutions

If you think that political cinema is dead, think again. The 63-year-old Marco Bellocchio is alive and well and preparing his next film on the kidnapping of Aldo Moro. His heroes no longer scrawl slogans on walls, as in «China is Near» (1967); their reactions are more reflective, pursuing inner paths. A low-key revolutionary, Marco Bellocchio still identifies as a leftist, but he has become more inward-looking, attempting to «understand the Left’s defeat.» He is against Berlusconi, but considers it a mistake to «identify only him with the crisis of Italy.» One of the most thinking, non-conformist and intellectual Italian directors, his work may not be widely known in Greece – with the exception of «In the Name of the Father» (1971) and «Devil in the Flesh» (1986) – but it is multifaceted and complex. At the 43rd Thessaloniki International Film Festival there will be a tribute to him and he will be president of the judges’ panel. From Friday, when the festival begins, until November 17, a large retrospective of his work will give the public the opportunity to see 16 of his full-length feature films and 12 shorts and documentaries. Alongside this, 44 of his sketches for the cinema will be displayed at the State Museum of Contemporary Art. The effect of his strong Catholic upbringing and education is clear in most of his work from his first full-length student film to the most recent work that caused a storm of reaction when screened at the Cannes Film Festival: «Religion Hour» aka «His Mother’s Smile» (on the sudden beatification by the Vatican of the mother of the main hero, a painter). His great political activity (he was a member of the non-parliamentary extreme left) along with his non-conformism and his questioning of institutions such as the family, have left their mark on films such as «Fist in the Pocket» and «China is Near.» Students of his work divide it into two periods, the political and the psychoanalytic. In the 1970s his cinema began to evolve, pursuing secret paths and labyrinthine personal explorations. As Michel Demopoulos, director of the festival, notes: «Bellocchio is one of the few not to compromise with the new mechanisms of the cinema market. His work has consistency and continuity. This is one of the rarest and most sought-after things in today’s cinema culture.» Kathimerini spoke with Bellocchio a few days before his arrival in Thessaloniki. His time was limited, as he is already working on his new film on the Aldo Moro affair «in a personal way, not faithful to the tragedy of 25 years ago.» The last film of yours to be screened in Greek cinemas was «Devil in the Flesh.» How would you choose to be reintroduced to the Greek public? I don’t know about Greek cinema. I always chose unique global subjects, of equal interest to Italians, French, Greeks, Americans. In most of my films I protest against the establishment and the hypocrisy which neutralizes people’s vitality and destroys their personality. Do you want your audience to see you as a «revolutionary» director then? I like to work with a fairly classic type of cinema, realistic on the surface. I am mostly superficially realistic. I have always criticized Italian cinema for its excessive realism, a verismo which produced mediocre surface images. In cinema, as in art in general, what is of interest is the exploration of the unseen. I try to explore what is behind the image and not that which we see. Mine is a double revolution: against the establishment that suppresses freedom and a second, very discreet one against conformism in cinematographic imagery. You are an intellectual director and your films are full of historical and political references. You represent a type of cinema that some say is disappearing today. Do you believe this? I don’t. And in Italian cinema similar thoughts and comments are being expressed. If we are talking in terms of the days of Petri and Damiani then, yes, there was a socio-political current, a political cinema dealing with reality, with political corruption. But they were also years in which an artist could believe in politics. Today, the most one can hope for from politics is a good administration. In Italy the difference between Left and Right is becoming smaller and smaller. This type of political reality holds no interest for an artist. Making films about people, about society, is a form of politics. Personally, today I have no motivation to make films about the political situation. So, I ascribe more importance to human relationships. Your latest film caused a wave of reaction in Italy from the Catholic Church. The reactions came from only one section of the Church, the most blinkered and intolerant, which reacted to certain scenes, such as when someone blasphemes against God and the Virgin, or the scene which presents the fake scenery for the beatification of the mother. They managed to get the film censored, and it is indeed unsuitable for children under the age of 14. I made the film without any desire to scandalize or provoke. It’s a very personal film, in which I believe deeply, although the things described in it never happened to me. Which of your films do you consider the most autobiographical? In one sense, all my films are autobiographical. The things I describe might not be my life, but they are parts of me which I pass on to my characters. I can see in my films people, situations, behavior that I have encountered in my life. But, of course, they are not all autobiographical. For example, I never killed my mother! You will find many beloved books of mine in my films, traces of Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare or Chekhov. The least autobiographical film was «Slap the Monster on Page One,» a film which didn’t really satisfy me. In «Slap the Monster on Page One,» the reporter is questioned as to whether he wants to make his readers neurotic. Do you believe that the way in which the media tackle events increases tension and stress? The matter is rather complicated as both television and press send a twofold message. On the one hand, they describe horrific events, tragedies and insist upon them. On the other hand, television tries to reach a consensus by presenting entertaining images, films or series. These two diverse messages eventually clash, hurting the viewers’ mental balance. Newspapers are less harmful because the reader is more active. In television, the blow is direct and violent. And let’s not go into the effects of advertising…

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