Erano anni che non sentivamo parlare di Antonio Gramsci ma, qualche giorno dopo l'inaspettato risultato elettorale del partito laburista britannico guidato da Jeremy Corbyn, Paul Mason, noto giornalista di The Guardian, ha scritto un articolo commentando il risultato in cui menziona Gramsci e il concetto gramsciano di egemonia culturale, e, guarda caso, solo qualche giorno prima avevamo visto una puntata di Quante storie, un programma della RAI che parla di libri, dedicato appunto a Gramsci in occasione della pubblicazione di una nuova biografia sul grande intellettuale di sinistra. Che Gramsci stia ritornando di attualità grazie alla crisi dell'ideologia neoliberale?
Ecco, in basso, l'articolo di Paul Mason e la puntata di Quante storie
in cui si parla di Antonio Gramsci:
Jeremy Corbyn has won the first battle in a long war against the ruling elite
Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci understood that before taking power, the left must disrupt and defy common sense – just as Labour defeated the proposition that ‘Corbyn can’t win’
To stop Jeremy Corbyn, the British elite is prepared to abandon Brexit – first in its hard form and, if necessary, in its entirety. That is the logic behind all the manoeuvres, all the cant and all the mea culpas you will see mainstream politicians and journalists perform this week.
And the logic is sound. The Brexit referendum result was supposed to unleash Thatcherism 2.0 – corporate tax rates on a par with Ireland, human rights law weakened, and perpetual verbal equivalent of the Falklands war, only this time with Brussels as the enemy; all opponents of hard Brexit would be labelled the enemy within.
But you can’t have any kind of Thatcherism if Corbyn is prime minister. Hence the frantic search for a fallback line. Those revolted by the stench of May’s rancid nationalism will now find it liberally splashed with the cologne of compromise.
Labour has, quite rightly, tried to keep Karl Marx out of the election. But there is one Marxist whose work provides the key to understanding what just happened. Antonio Gramsci, the Italian communist leader who died in a fascist jail in 1937, would have had no trouble understanding Corbyn’s rise, Labour’s poll surge, or predicting what happens next. For Gramsci understood what kind of war the left is fighting in a mature democracy, and how it can be won.
Consider the events of the past six weeks a series of unexpected plot twists. Labour starts out polling 25% but then scores 40%. Its manifesto is leaked, raising major questions of competence, but it immediately boosts Corbyn’s popularity. Britain is attacked by terrorists but it is the Tories whose popularity dips. Diane Abbott goes sick – yet her majority rises to 30,000. Sitting Labour candidates campaign on the premise “Corbyn cannot win” yet his presence delivers a 10% boost to their own majorities.
None of it was supposed to happen. It defies political “common sense”. Gramsci was the first to understand that, for the working class and the left, almost the entire battle is to disrupt and defy this common sense. He understood that it is this accepted common sense – not MI5, special branch and the army generals – that really keeps the elite in power.
Once you accept that, you begin to understand the scale of Corbyn’s achievement. Even if he hasn’t won, he has publicly destroyed the logic of neoliberalism – and forced the ideology of xenophobic nationalist economics into retreat.
Brexit was an unwanted gift to British business. Even in its softest form it means 10 years of disruption, inflation, higher interest rates and an incalculable drain on the public purse. It disrupts the supply of cheap labour; it threatens to leave the UK as an economy without a market.
But the British ruling elite and the business class are not the same entity. They have different interests. The British elite are in fact quite detached from the interests of people who do business here. They have become middle men for a global elite of hedge fund managers, property speculators, kleptocrats, oil sheikhs and crooks. It was in the interests of the latter that Theresa May turned the Conservatives from liberal globalists to die-hard Brexiteers.
The hard Brexit path creates a permanent crisis, permanent austerity and a permanent set of enemies – namely Brussels and social democracy. It is the perfect petri dish for the fungus of financial speculation to grow. But the British people saw through it. Corbyn’s advance was not simply a result of energising the Labour vote. It was delivered by an alliance of ex-Ukip voters, Greens, first-time voters and tactical voting by the liberal centrist salariat.
The alliance was created in two stages. First, in a carefully costed manifesto Corbyn illustrated, for the first time in 20 years, how brilliant it would be for most people if austerity ended and government ceased to do the work of the privatisers and the speculators. Then, in the final week, he followed a tactic known in Spanish as la remontada – the comeback. He stopped representing the party and started representing the nation; he acted against stereotype – owning the foreign policy and security issues that were supposed to harm him. Day by day he created an epic sense of possibility.
The ideological results of this are more important than the parliamentary arithmetic. Gramsci taught us that the ruling class does not govern through the state. The state, Gramsci said, is just the final strongpoint. To overthrow the power of the elite, you have to take trench after trench laid down in their defence.
Last summer, during the second leadership contest, it became clear that the forward trench of elite power runs through the middle of the Labour party. The Labour right, trained during the cold war for such trench warfare, fought bitterly to retain control, arguing that the elite would never allow the party to rule with a radical left leadership and programme.
The moment the Labour manifesto was leaked, and support for it took off, was the moment the Labour right’s trench was overrun. They retreated to a second trench – not winning, with another leadership election to follow – but that did not exactly go well either.
As to the third trench line – the tabloid press and its broadcasting echo chamber – this too proved ineffectual. More than 12 million people voted for a party stigmatised as “backing Britain’s enemies”, soft on terror, with “blood on its hands”.
And Gramsci would have understood the reasons here, too. When most socialists treated the working class as a kind of bee colony – pre-programmed to perform its historical role – Gramsci said: everyone is an intellectual. Even if a man is treated as “trained gorilla” at work, outside work “he is a philosopher, an artist, a man of taste ... has a conscious line of moral conduct”. [Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks]
On this premise, Gramsci told the socialists of the 1930s to stop obsessing about the state – and to conduct a long, patient trench warfare against the ideology of the ruling elite.
Eighty years on, the terms of the battle have changed. Today, you do not need to come up from the mine, take a shower, walk home to a slum and read the Daily Worker before you can start thinking. As I argued in Postcapitalism, the 20th-century working class is being replaced as the main actor – in both the economy and oppositional politics – by the networked individual. People with weak ties to each other, and to institutions, but possessing a strong footprint of individuality and rationalism and capacity to act.
What we learned on Friday morning was how easily such networked, educated people can see through bullshit. How easily they organise themselves through tactical voting websites; how quickly they are prepared to unite around a new set of basic values once someone enunciates them with cheerfulness and goodwill, as Corbyn did.
The high Conservative vote, and some signal defeats for Labour in the areas where working class xenophobia is entrenched, indicate this will be a long, cultural war. A war of position, as Gramsci called it, not one of manoeuvre.
But in that war, a battle has been won. The Tories decided to use Brexit to smash up what’s left of the welfare state, and to recast Britain as the global Singapore. They lost. They are retreating behind a human shield of Orange bigots from Belfast.
The left’s next move must eschew hubris; it must reject the illusion that with one lightning breakthrough we can envelop the defences of the British ruling class and install a government of the radical left.
The first achievable goal is to force the Tories back to a position of single-market engagement, under the jurisdiction of the European court of justice, and cross-party institutions to guide the Brexit talks. But the real prize is to force them to abandon austerity.
A Tory party forced to fight the next election on a programme of higher taxes and increased spending, high wages and high public investment would signal how rapidly Corbyn has changed the game. If it doesn’t happen; if the Conservatives tie themselves to the global kleptocrats instead of the interests of British business and the British people, then Corbyn is in Downing Street.
Either way, the accepted common sense of 30 years is over.
Paul Mason; The Guardian; 12 June, 2017
Ed ecco un bel podcast della BBC4 Radio del 2014, e due video interessantissimi che ripercorrono la vita e il pensiero di Gramsci:
Nel video in basso, lo storico d'arte Costantino D'Orazio ci porta a visitare il Cimitero acattolico (cioè non-cattolico) di Roma, noto anche come "Cimitero degli Inglesi" o "Cimitero dei protestanti", dove sono custodite le ceneri di Gramsci.
Saranno proprio le ceneri di Gramsci ad ispirare e a dare il titolo a una raccolta di poesie di Pier Paolo Pasolini, pubblicata nel 1957, in cui Pasolini esprime il suo rapporto conflittuale con la sinistra di allora. Ecco a proposito un brano tratto dall'introduzione di James Ivory al libro The Selected Poetry of Pier Paolo Pasolini, edito e tradotto da Stephen Sartorelli:
In articulating his own doubts and contradictions concerning the socialist dream, which he addressed directly to Gramsci in the title poem, Pasolini was speaking for much of the literary and artistic intelligentsia of the age:
The scandal of self-contradiction - of being
with you and against you; with you in my heart,
in the light, against you in the dark of my gut.
Though a traitor to my father's station
- in my mind, in a semblance of action -
I know I'm bound to it in the heat
of my instincts and aesthetic passion;
and yet he was also speaking only for himself as in the lines that immediately follow:
drawn to a proletarian life
from before your time, I take for religion
its joyousness, not its millennial
struggle-its nature, not its
Pasolini had successfully merged, at least for a moment, the public and personal veins. What was once narcissism here becomes lucid self-analysis, but with no repudiation of his principal passions. In these last five lines, in fact, Pasolini gives us a concise summary of his magnetic attraction to the common people, who, however formidable a political mass they may be, are for him a repository of ancient values and culture. His social vision spans the centuries, informed more by timeless agrarian traditions and natural cycles than by dry Marxist rationalizations of historical forces and relations of production. It is more humanistic and literary than purely political, and it unites his prior experience of Friuli with the picture he will later paint of the ancient peasant world in such films as The Decameron, The Arabian Nights, and Medea.
Leggendo il brano sopra, ciò che sorprende oggigiorno non è tanto la posizione di Pasolini verso la sinistra di allora, ma quanto sia cambiata la sinistra in questi ultimi trent'anni e quanto importante fosse la sinistra italiana sia a livello politico che culturale nel dopoguerra. Ecco alcune pagine tratte dal capitolo introduttivo di un bel libro del 1984, Writers and Society in Contemporary Italy, curato da Michael Caesar e Peter Hainsworth, in cui vengono descritti i cambiamenti economici e politici avvenuti in Italia dal dopoguerra fino agli anni '80.
The Economic Miracle and After
The economic and social changes that Italy has undergone in the past thirty years have been unprecedented in the country's history in their size and scope. No Italian has been able to ignore them, for their effects have been tangible in all aspects of life.
The impetus to change came in the 1950s from the economy. A number of factors contributed to a steady recovery after the devastation of the war, and then to a period of rapid and sustained growth which lasted from 1951 to 1963, with a particularly dramatic expansion towards its end, 1959-1963 being the years of the so-called 'boom' or 'economic miracle'. The removal of the protective tariff-barriers which had surrounded the country's economy since Unification, the injection of substantial amounts of U.S. aid, the use of credit restrictions to encourage competitiveness, the stability of the banking system and the relative stability of the prices of raw materials (important in a country like Italy which is lacking in minerals and sources of energy) all contributed to create a climate of opportunity and entrepreneurial confidence. In addition, the unions were divided and weak and labour was cheap. Public investment in the South of Italy helped to create for the first time a large national market for consumer durables. Productivity increased as equipment became more standardized, while industrialists could draw on technical know-how imported from abroad without having to bear the costs of research and development. Investment was high (in 1961 investment had grown to one-and-a-half times what it was in 1954), and so were profits.
The main expansion occurred in manufacturing industry. Its share of the GNP rose by i0% between 1950 and 1960. By 1962, the four essential sectors of an industrial economy - steel, chemicals, engineering and electricity - represented 16.1% of the economy (compared with 19.3% in France). But the most visible effect of this expansion was in the labour market, where within ten years the traditional preponderance of agricultural employment had been reversed. Where in 1951 just over 40% of the active labour force had been working on the land, in 1961 the figure had fallen to 25%, (and it has continued to decline steadily ever since, to an estimated 13% of the active labour force in 1980). By no means all of this labour released from the land went straight into the factories. A proportion of it moved into the more slowly growing service sector. A further, and significant, portion was forced to leave the labour market altogether, particularly women who had contributed to the rural economy, but for whom there was no, or less, room in the towns. But while the percentage of the workforce employed in industry remained steady at around 36%, the absolute numbers increased by over a million in ten years, from just over 7 mill. in 1951 to 8.25 mill. in 1961.
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Nel 1992, accade l'impensabile: un gruppo di magistrati milanesi daranno inizio a una serie di indagini per corruzione che porteranno alla fine della Democrazia Cristiana. Ecco come Alexander Stille descrive quel periodo nel suo straordinario libro dedicato all'ascesa politica di Silvio Berlusconi, The Sack of Rome: How a Beautiful European Country with a Fabled History and a Storied Culture Was Taken Over by a Man Named Silvio Berlusconi, seguito da una puntata interessantissima del programma RAI, Il tempo e la storia, dedicata all'inchiesta "Mani pulite" e alla fine della cosiddetta "Prima Repubblica":
Operation Clean Hands and the Entry into Politics
1. Weeping in the shower
During the spring and summer of 1993, Silvio Berlusconi's world appeared on the brink of collapse. The political parties that had acted as his friends and protectors had been hammered by indictment after indictment on charges of political corruption and were on the point of extinction. Bettino Craxi, with eleven indictments to his name, had resigned as secretary of the Socialist Party and was greeted by menacing jeers when he appeared in public. In early June, police arrested Davide Giacalone, the legislative aide who had drafted the Mammi law, after discovering that, of the millions of dollars in under-the-table party-financing and "consultant's fee," he had personally pocketed $500,000 from Berlusconi's Fininvest. Later that same month, police arrested a Fininvest executive, Aldo Brancher on charges of having given 300 million lire (about $250,000) in bribes in order to convince the minister of health to place a larger-than expected share of anti-AIDS public health advertisements on the Fininvest networks. Prosecutors were holding Brancher in San Vittore prison, pressing him to tell them who at Fininvest had authorized the bribes. Unable to visit Brancher in prison, Berlusconi and Confalonieri got in their car one summer evening and drove around the prison walls.
"Confalonieri and I circled the prison," Berlusconi later said. "'We wanted to communicate with him." Presumably, Berlusconi and Confalonieri were sending Brancher telepathic messages to hang tough.
With the parties of the center and the right in total disarray, polls were showing a victory of the left as virtually inevitable. Some were talking about taking away one or two of Berlusconi's networks, which could spell his ruin. Fininvest was nearly $4 billion in debt and had delayed paying the suppliers of its department store chain in order to keep up with its interest payments. An unfavorable modification in the communications law could push Fininvest into the red, cause the banks to call in their loans and, potentially, bring about Berlusconi's ruin. Berlusconi considered the possibility of getting involved in politics to stave off a victory of the left, but the idea met with stiff resistance among his closest friends and advisers, throwing him into a rare moment of self doubt and despair: "I'm exhausted, on the point of a nervous breakdown," he said at the time. "Confalonieri and [Gianni] Letta tell me that it's madness to enter politics and that they will destroy me. That they will do anything, poring through documents, say that I'm a mafioso... What can I do? Sometimes I even find myself weeping in the shower."
But in what can be described only as a strategic and organizational stroke of brilliance, Berlusconi managed to turn what was perhaps the greatest crisis of his career into his greatest triumph - short-circuiting all his potential problems by taking direct control of the political system.
2. The Decadence of the Ancien Régime
Berlusconi's entry into politics and lightning success is comprehensible only within the context of the crisis that destroyed the political parties that had governed Italy between 1946 and 1993. The short-term cause of the crisis was the corruption investigation known as Operation Clean Hands, but its roots go much deeper, and are found in the changing geopolitical landscape of the time.
Operation Clean Hands began modestly enough. On February 17, 1992, an obscure but powerful local official of the Socialist Party, Mario Chiesa, head of an august Milan charity for the elderly, was arrested trying to flush a $6,000 bribe down the toilet. As it turned out, this was just an average day at the office for Chiesa, who had socked away some $10 million in Swiss bank accounts. Chiesa had found a way to profit from virtually every transaction and, like a character in Gogol's Dead Souls, was even making money off every dead body he sent to the cemetery.
Scandals of this kind - some much bigger - had surfaced from time to time in Italy at previous moments, but always seemed to stop before reaching rhe highest levels of responsibility. In the past, the government always found a way to sandbag investigations without paying a significant political price. For example, in 1987 prosecutors arrested the head of the Milan subway system, a prominent Socialist, for soliciting bribes, but Bettino Craxi put him up for election to the Senate in a safe district in order to give him parliamentary immunity. This meant that Prosecutors could continue their investigation only if parliament voted to waive the senator's immunity, which, despite ample evidence of wrongdoing, it refused to do.
But in 1992, the political class was unable to stop Operation Clean Hands in the way it had cut off other investigations just a few years earlier. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War had changed the political dynamic in Italy. Italy's governing parties - the Christian Democrats, Socialists and their satellite Parties - were, paradoxically, the victims of their own success. They were united by a common commitment to the Atlantic alliance and an opposition to Communism. The late 1980s and early 1990s represented the ultimate triumph and vindication of their political vision. The Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev admitted that its system had failed and tried to institute economic and political reforms. The Berlin Wall came down in 1989, and the regimes of Eastern Europe collapsed almost overnight. In Italy, the government's main adversary, the Italian Communist Party, was lacerated by internal debate and split in two: a majority of reformists voted to renounce Marxism-Leninism and change the party's name to the Democratic Party of the Left, while a sizable minority decided to hold fast to the Communist tradition.
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Ecco un brano tratto da Not a Normal Country: Italy After Berlusconi in cui il giornalista inglese Geoff Andrews riprende il discorso da dove Caesar e Hainsworth si fermano, analizzando la sinistra italiana degli anni '90 e i primi anni del 2000 - per capire quale partito o quale alleanza di partiti ha vinto quali elezione ecco l'utilissimo Italy Profile: Timeline, della BBC News.
The Failure of the Italian Third Way
In the mid 1990s, political parties of the centre-left underwent major discussions over their policy agendas, driven by the impact of globalisation, the implications of the end of Communism, and a perceived need for a new ideological direction. Many European countries had experienced years of right-wing government. In Britain, the Thatcherite era was coming to an end, but many of its core ideas influenced Tony Blair's attempts to modernise the Labour Party on his way to power in 1997 . In the view of many, his governments have marked the continuation of rather than a break from the Thatcherite era. In the eyes of some, however, his governments assumed the mantle of a new idea for the European centre-left: the 'third way'.
This new idea was given greater weight by close cooperation between Blair and Clinton advisers from the early 1990s, while the intellectual contribution of Anthony Giddens underpinned its core principles. Blair's electoral success complemented centre-left electoral victories elsewhere in Europe, notably in Germany, France and Italy; in the latter country, the Olive Tree alliance headed by the ex-Communist PDS came to power in 1996, adding to general optimism that a new opportunity for the centre-left was opening up. The Blair government was to outlast the rest of the European centre-left governments. Yet its success in winning elections in reality did not indicate an opening for the left, as it failed to break out of the Thatcherite paradigm, its questionable political priorities confirmed by its alliances with the Bush administration over the invasion of Iraq and the Berlusconi and Aznar governments over flexible labour markets.
From its evolution, the third way can be characterised by attempts to position the left within the realities of a post-Fordist globalised society. While the term has been used by many different political traditions in the past, in its most recent articulation it has come to symbolise a decisive break with the two dominant traditions that had characterised postwar societies: a 'statist social democracy' and free market neo-liberalism. More contentiously, Anthony Giddens, its leading theorist, argued that many of the old ideological divisions between left and right were no longer relevant.
It is evident that a decisive historical break has been emphasised by all who have adopted the third way label. This is often achieved by the use of 'new' in the description of the party or group: New Labour, the New Democrats and the New Progressives have all assumed this purpose. In many cases there has been a significant rupture between the new idea and earlier traditions, though often this has become as much a semantic question as one based on any credible historical analysis. Thus, 'new left' in the British debate now counts as 'old left' in third way interpretations, while the modernising trajectory of the 1960s is often regarded as outdated ideological posturing and overlooked in the attempt to fashion a new politics. It is therefore a much contested term, with a lot depending upon its view of the past.
One of the defining ideas of the third way is the view that the centre-left needed to put more emphasis on individual liberty, and accept that the market has an important role to play in promoting wealth and prosperity. This meant that adherence to market principles and the pursuit of social justice were no longer to be seen as mutually exclusive but, within the context of globalisation, now depended on each other. The enterprise culture and the accumulation of personal wealth were no longer to be derided or, crucially, seen as the cause of inequality. Rather, they were now determinants of 'social justice'. According to Giddens:
Successful entrepreneurs...are innovators, because they spot the possibilities that others miss, or take on risks that others decline, or both. A society that doesn't encourage entrepreneurial culture won't generate the economic energy that comes from the most creative ideas. Social and civic entrepreneurs are just as important as those working directly in a market context, since the same drive and creativity are needed in the public sector, and in civil society, as in the economic sphere.
Certainly, Giddens felt this was an idea that had global reach, claiming countries as disparate in political cultures as Brazil, Argentina, South Korea, New Zealand and Chile were adopting versions of the idea by the turn of the millennium. Despite the universality of the third way's appeal, there were of course distinctive national characteristics and historical circumstances that shaped its development in different countries. In Italy, a country without a strong social democratic tradition but with the strongest Communist party in Western Europe in the postwar years, the crucial moment was 1989-92. The fall of the Berlin Wall, taken together with the collapse of the Christian Democrats in the early 1990s, had a profound effect in shaping the second Italian Republic, as it has been called; a new party system, with new political faultlines and polarities, began to emerge from the wreckage. The PCI (Partito Comunista Italiano), under the direction of Achille Occhetto, made its historical decision in 1991 to change its name and the identity of its party. This decision was contested by a minority of the membership, who formed Rifondazione comunista; this was to divide further in 1998 when a traditionalist grouping around Armando Cossutta formed a new Italian Communist Party, the PdCI (Partito dei Comunisti Italiani). The majority two-thirds of the old PCI remained in the new PDS (Partito Democratico della Sinistra - later DS, Democratici di Sinistra), the Party of the Left Democrats.
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Ecco, in basso, la famosa scena a cui si riferisce Geoff Andrews in cui Moretti esorta Massimo D'Alema a dire "una cosa di sinistra", seguito da un documentario del 2007 di Wolfgang Achtner, Qualcosa di sinistra, in cui Nanni Moretti racconta la storia dei suoi rapporti con la politica.
Nel 2008 Berlusconi, a capo di una coalizione di centro-destra, torna a guidare il paese per la terza volta. Tre anni dopo sarà costretto a dimettersi. Ecco come Michael Day, nel suo libro Being Berlusconi: The Rise & Fall from Cosa Nostra to Bunga Bunga, descrive gli eventi:
Crowds gathered at Milan's Palace of Justice on April 7, 2011, a warm spring day, to witness the start of Berlusconi's most humiliating legal battle. But after the breathless buildup, Silvio Berlusconi's "Rubygate" sex trial came to a premature end after just nine minutes - rather less time than it took for one of his bunga bunga sessions. Judge Giulia Turri accepted that the prime minister had official duties to attend, and postponed the trial to May 31. Reporters who had traveled from around the world, hoping for courtroom theatrics from day one, sighed in disappointment. But prosecutors knew they had time on their side.
It's always uppermost in Berlusconi's mind that he has to stay in power because: a) he deserves it, and b) he needs political protection to avoid arrest and prosecution. But in May 2011 his hold on power seemed to be weakening when a war of words broke out between the key parts of his increasingly shaky coalition. The interior minister, Roberto Maroni, a leading figure in the anti-immigrant northern League, clashed with the defense minister, Ignazio La Russa, a scary, probably not-very ex-fascist with a voice like the possessed child in The Exorcist. La Russa was in favor of Italy joining NATO's bombing campaign in Libya. Maroni opposed it, not on compassionate grounds, but for fear it would send Libyan refugees flooding across the Mediterranean to Italy. Berlusconi did his best to paper over the cracks. But foreign policy arguments were just the start of a series of domestic blows that would push him out of power forever.
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In Italian, when taking a photo, we encourage our subject to smile by saying "sorridi!" ("smile!"), if you are being informal, "sorrida!", if you are being formal. If you were to translate directly from the English and say "dici formaggio!" your subject would be completely dumbfounded! If we happen to be taking a photo of more than one person, we say "sorridete!".
Often these days when teaching, as you turn from writing on the board towards the class, you see a mobile phone aimed at you and a student is taking a picture of what you've just written or the storyboard we are using. We make a joke of it of course: "Johnny Depp has joined us today!", or "When I loose weight, I'll be happy to pose for you!", etc. So yesterday, for fun, I took a photo of my class taking photos of of the board, which reminded me of some photos I took last october of tourists taking photos of Botticelli's The Birth of Venus and Primavera, at the Uffizi Gallery, and, of course, of Martin Parr's famous photograph (above) of tourists taking photos of Leonardo's La Gioconda at the Louvre Museum. Ecco le foto:
Se non avete visto il bel film di Paolo Genovese, Perfetti sconosciuti (Perfect Strangers), all'Italian film festival dell'anno scorso, poco importa perché il 26 gennaio uscirà nelle sale dei cinema Palace. Ecco il trailer e la recensione di Paul Byrnes apparsa sabato scorso nel Sydney Morning Herald.
Don't try this at home. Perfetti Sconosciuti, to give it back the original title, caused a degree of soul-searching on release last year in Italy, and no wonder. It's about seven friends who come together for a regular dinner: one challenges the others to a truth game in which they must share whatever communications come through on their phones during the evening. Apparently, some Italians were shocked at the level of lies and deception. Lucky there's none of that here.
"We don't have any secrets," says Eva (Kasia Smutniak), whose idea it is. She and her husband Rocco (Marco Giallini), a plastic surgeon, are the hosts. Their apartment is huge, with a big balcony from which to watch the eclipse that gives the party a little lunacy. Eva is a psychologist with a diabolical streak – no one sensible would suggest such a game.
The rest are not as rich. Cosimo (Edoardo Leo) drives a taxi and dreams of get-rich-quick schemes. His new wife, Bianca (Alba Rohrwacher), a vet, adores him and sees no blemishes. They have gathered to meet the new girlfriend of the bumbling bachelor Peppe (Giuseppe Battiston), who arrives without the girl. A fever, he explains, but we can see he's lying.
That leaves one seat free at the big square table on which they eat a series of fabulous dishes (if nothing else, the movie will make you hungry). This is where director Paolo Genovese puts his camera, as a way of including us in the action. That's a smart response to the film's biggest challenge – how to make a one-set, dialogue-driven script cinematic, rather than just a filmed play. He doesn't quite succeed but it doesn't matter.
Audiences won't worry much about it being static if they are laughing at good dialogue and seeing the characters squirm. The gorgeous Carlotta (Anna Foglietta) is a secret drunk who takes her underpants off before she arrives – suggesting she's having an affair with someone at the table. Her husband Lele (Valerio Mastandrea) asks Peppe to swap phones – so that when his mistress sends an indecent photo of herself, as she does at 10pm every night, Peppe can pretend she's his new girlfriend.
It would be easy to do this script badly – a mechanical wheeling out of one embarrassing moment after another. Come to think of it, that's what Genovese does; and yet he works hard on the characterisations. Cosimo may be a stereotypical Italian man – a combination of serial seducer, braggart and mama's boy – but Rocco the surgeon is wise and witty, an honourable man. There is a duality at work in the characters. They may be vulnerable, imperfect people, but they are trying. None of them is mean.
The Italian critics applauded Genovese for attempting to revive one of the most important local genres – the so-called commedia all'Italiana, or "comedy Italian style", that ran from the late 1950s until the early 1980s. That's brave but risky; times have moved on.
Genovese shows his hand, very deliberately. The film that started the movement in 1958 was Mario Monicelli's I Soliti Ignoti (known as Big Deal on Madonna Street in English), the story of a gang of petty thieves who botch an attempt to steal a pawnbroker's safe. The two lead characters in that film were called Cosimo and Peppe.
The Commedia all'Italiana films were more satirical and cynical than the heart-on-the-sleeve neo-realist films that made Italian cinema famous just after the war. Neo-realism was largely for export. They were art films, rejecting Fascism and wringing their hands with the tragedy of modern life. Italian audiences always preferred domestic comedies, where the humour was tougher. The Commedia films took a harder line about post-war Italy's failure to deliver the goods.
In a quiet way, Perfect Strangers does that too. It certainly attacks the way mobile phones have taken over our lives, but the malaise here is not technical. Among these seven friends, secrets are the only constant. Genovese says he took the premise from a line by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Colombian novelist, that we all have three lives – one public, one private, one secret. It might have been nastier in the hands of a less experienced director but Genovese handles it with delicacy. They might all be liars, but who's going to throw the first stone?
Perfect Strangers opens on January 26.
At Italia 500 we've been offering Italian courses, in Sydney, since 1995 and one of the most beautiful aspects of learning Italian is that it opens the door to a culture of unrivalled richness and diversity. In this blog we'll be sharing some of our favourite books, movies, places in Italy to visit, music, links to podcasts, information about local and international Italian themed events, and the odd "personal" view, in the hope that it will encourage you to delve further into a culture which continues to inspire us and millions of people all over the world.