Few films, even the greatest ones, are life-changing. It’s just something critics say. But Roberto Rossellini’s Paisan, showing Italy in tatters in the second world war, really did alter the paths taken by two Italian brothers: 17-year-old Paolo Taviani and his 15-year-old brother Vittorio, who saw it in 1946. They made a pledge after leaving the cinema: if they were not shooting films within a decade, they would buy a gun and shoot themselves. Thirty years later, and fully established as directors, they made their masterpiece, Padre Padrone. It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1977, as well as the international critics’ prize – the first picture to scoop both awards at the festival. The jury president that year was the man who had inspired them: Roberto Rossellini.
Padre Padrone, which was made for Italian television, is based on the autobiography by the linguist Gavino Ledda. It details his upbringing in Sardinia at the hands of his father, a brutal peasant farmer, and opens with the real Gavino whittling away at a branch with his knife. The camera pans right to a man approaching a door. It is Omero Antonutti, the actor who will play Gavino’s father. He is about to enter a classroom, from which he will drag his illiterate six-year-old son (Fabrizio Forte) before forcing him to work in the wind-beaten mountains. Gavino hands his screen parent the stick he has been fashioning: “My father was carrying this,” he says. It’s a masterful, Brechtian moment; the baton is passed from reality to cinema.
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.
Who would have thought that a dysfunctional, deranged, down-and-out homeless person in pre-First World War Vienna become, 20 years later, Chancellor of Germany? This peculiar and intriguing film simply named “Max” argues that he succeeded because he had such a burning need to be recognized (sounds familiar ?)–and also, of course, because of luck= good for him, bad for us.
If Hitler had won fame as an artist, the century’s history might have been different.
“Max” imagines a fictional scenario in which the young Adolf Hitler (Noah Taylor) is befriended by a one-armed Jewish art dealer named Max Rothman (John Cusack) in Munich in the years following World War I.