FF32 - Paisan

Intro by John Roderick

Mussolini started out socialist: An ardent, vociferous socialist. Like many of his fin de si├Ęcle contemporaries, he saw history and politics in Marxist terms: As a struggle between the ownership class and the great majority of working people. But right around the start of World War I there was a kind of schism in socialism: Nietzsche was in the air, the idea of the Ubermensch in market contrast with the idea that only worker solidarity could bring forth mankind's true promise.

And as the Great Powers lined up against each other in 1914 it wasn't exactly clear what the workers of the world were supposed to unite even for or against. Pacifism? Not monarchism, surely, but not capitalist imperialism either! Egalitarianism and class struggle didn't really equate with the hot blooded feelings of the man on the street anymore. Suddenly it felt like country came first and country men even more! If Italians were going to war with Austro-Hunagry, yes it would be to destroy the Habsburgs, not for some abstract global worker's paradise, but for Italy!

Mussolini invented Fascism at least in the modern sense entirely on the fly out of shards. His insight was to abend the dialectic of class struggle, to unite Italians rich and poor in a shared sense of cultural and racial chauvinism. It was not only workers who could form the revolutionary vanguard but any patriotic Italian. Violence and domination were natural human conditions necessary prophylactics against rot and decadence and Mussolini institutionalized them as part of a new social order of conformism, xenophobia, moral indignation, expansionism and autocracy, backed up with a healthy dose of social Darwinism.

The working people flocked to it in droves. We throw the word around willy nilly now at targets both deserving and comically undeserving, but Fascism is a form of governance born out of a specific moment in time and place: Italy in the aftermath of World War I at the hand of journalist and professor Benito Mussolini.

The problem of course is that the object of fascism is for the nation to be aggressively at war, conquering nations and expanding its influence, and post-war Italy was simply industrially and socially incapable of building and maintaining a war machine.

So anyway: They lost pretty much all the battles and then they lost the war. Now: We've already watched films influenced by Italian neorealism but these are the headwaters. We've watched films that depict the destruction of World War II, but Paisan was shot in real rubble almost immediately after the surrender of Germany's forces in Italy in the spring 1945. These aren't sets! There are still bullets on the ground! The film is a series of vignettes, set after the Allied invasion of Sicily in the summer of 1943, generally following the American military as it moves up from Sicily through Naples Rome Florence and out to the Poe Delta.

Newsreel Footage and maps provide some context, but primarily we follow along as American GIs interact with civilians, Italians of various allegiance, the clergy, men, women and children. One chapter centers on a black soldier's relationship with a street urchin, while elsewhere an American nurse runs around Florence under fire, searching for her boyfriend. The short chapters dramatically illustrate the impact the Fascist rule, war and liberation had on the people on the ground, and the neo realist style never calls attention to its own techniques, lending a documentary feel.

It's a collection of old parables about war and its aftermath and while it's not one of those classics of cinema that really holds up in a modern context, it plays an important role in the history of film. Its lack of heavy handedness directly inspired the cinematic style of previous Friendly Fire showing The Battle of Algiers and it is a favorite film of Martin Scorsese's. It defies easy categorization and it was totally unlike any film that came before it. Keep your head down while you're moving between the reeds. Today on friendly fire: Paisan.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License