A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Friday, May 18, 2018

Kapò (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1960)

Susan Strasberg, Didi Perego, and Emmanuelle Riva in Kapò
Edith / Nicole Niepas: Susan Strasberg
Sascha: Laurent Terzieff
Terese: Emmanuelle Riva
Sofia: Didi Perego
Karl: Gianni Garko

Director: Gillo Pontecorvo
Screenplay: Gillo Pontecorvo, Franco Solinas
Cinematography: Aleksandar Sekulovic
Production design: Aleksandar Milovic
Film editing: Roberto Cinquini, Anhela Micheli
Music: Carlo Rustichelli

As a rule, filmmakers should be discouraged from using the Holocaust as a backdrop for film dramas -- or worse, as in the case of Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful (1997), comedies. The enormity of the Shoah inevitably undercuts even the most heartfelt attempts to dramatize it -- and I would include, even though it's a film I admire, Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List (1993). Gillo Pontecorvo is a filmmaker whose The Battle of Algiers (1966) exhibits a real skill at portraying moral complexity, and I think he's striving for something like that in Kapò, which depicts a Jewish girl's desperate attempt to survive, even to the extent of prostituting herself to the SS and serving as a bullying kapo in the concentration camp to which she has been sent. Unfortunately, Pontecorvo muddles the moral questions the film raises by resorting to romantic melodrama, when Edith, his protagonist, who has taken on the identity of a dead prisoner to hide the fact that she's Jewish, falls in love with a Russian POW. Even before then, the film displays narrative thinness: Edith's escape from the building in which she and other children are held prior to being sent to the gas chambers is altogether too easy, and the fortuitous way in which she finds a prisoner and a camp doctor willing to help her disguise herself stretches credulity. Slight, pretty Susan Strasberg also feels miscast as the girl who turns overnight from a shy waif into a tough prison camp enforcer. It was almost a case of "stunt casting": Strasberg originated the role of Anne Frank in the 1955 Broadway dramatization of The Diary of Anne Frank, but was judged too old for the role in the 1959 film version directed by George Stevens. Her casting in Kapò looks a bit like an attempt to make amends.

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