Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Wire

Kapo (1960)
dir. Gillo Pontecorvo

Black Jesus (1968)
dir. Valerio Zurlini


  1. “Black Jesus” by Valerio Zurlini (1968) is not just a political film about the “noble” fight of one African nation for its independence from the Western politico-economic pressures and military power. The film does much more – it shows the incompatibility between two kinds of culture and two types of human beings: Western specialists (along with the African elite “collaborating” with the West in exchange for power over their own population and decision-making right to sell off the national assets to foreigners), on the one hand, and “Black Jesus” – a natural leader of the African people and his native supporters, on the other. Zurlini in his film makes a very unusual and involving analysis of Westerners in Africa by suggesting that they are not representatives of a Democracy (psychologically democratic people who happen to be militaries or businessmen) but carriers of authoritarian way of life who are psychologically formed by despotic conditions of Western life.

    Of course, the despotism of the Europeans we observe in the film is not vulgarly direct and recognizable in person to person encounters but it‘s rather hidden inside the very instrumental nature of Western technology and economy. Here we come to the most unique feature of Zurlini’s film. What is shown despotic about the Europeans is the instrumental tasks people in the West are trained to perform without any critical distance, mechanically and efficiently. Their human identity depends on how impeccably they can function as followers of the expectations of those who pay their salaries. The operations they perform (while “on the job”) are for them like the will of the monarch is for traditional authoritarian people. Everybody we see from the privates to officers to colonel, don’t have any ideas of right or wrong, any ideological passions at all – only to perform the operations they were hired to perform in a completely impersonalized manner. By seeing these people‘s behavior, their body language, their amazing rationality of following irrational orders, by hearing their businesslike intonations, you cannot say that they are formed in democratic societies - they are rather like robots of despotic tasks the system puts in front of them to get a job done.
    By the contrast, the black leader Lalubi talks to his supporters not as the traditional, pre-Christian leaders do, but from the position of humility and equality that signifies a new (Christian) style of relations between people. In Lalubi as he is with noticeable inspiration played by Woody Strode with his rare charisma of grace (contrary to the traditional charisma of power) - the secular humanism and genuine Christianity are united into a unique spiritual combination. Franco Citti (Pasolini’s discovery and disciple) plays Oreste (the one who will be seated at Black Jesus’ right), the petty thief who just by being near Lalubi during his torturous ordeals is spiritually transformed, forever.

    The film’s numerous analogues between reality of historical events in modern Africa and the Gospels are relevant and impressive. The reality of Christian spirituality becomes alive not through the church rituals but through the sublime aspirations of the black people looking for liberation from the world of violent and conformist, idolatrous and intolerant survival the Westerners, according to Zurlini, try to bring to Africa.

    Victor Enyutin

  2. That is a phenomenal post for a phenomenal movie. Black Jesus is one of the highlights of '60s Italian cinema, a forgotten gem which everyone should watch ASAP, and can ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkQgUQztqsY ).