Between all the Disney films I’ve been watching in between the 1001 movies, it’s getting a bit difficult to remember the last time I did a foreign language film for this particular challenge. Turns out it was only two films ago… and prior to that it was three films in a row of non-English excellence – so I really shouldn’t have worried.
Going into The Spider’s Stratagem I had absolutely no idea what I was about to watch; other than it being by Bernardo Bertolucci. He has four films on the 1001 list and, somehow, this is the first of them that I have gotten around to seeing. Probably doesn’t help that, due to a lot of what came out recently, I am really uncertain about watching his most famous film: Last Tango In Paris.
After seeing this film, however, I am keen to see what else he can do. In a nutshell, this tells the story of a Athos – man journeying to a rural Italian town where his father is worshipped as a martyr of the anti-fascism movement. He’s there to uncover the identity of the person who killed his father, having received a tip-off from his father’s acknowledged mistress, only to become trapped in the same conspiracy that resulted in the death of his father.
At no point in the duration of The Spider’s Stratagem do you feel that Athos is anything close to safe. The people who killed his father clearly don’t want the truth to come out, which results in him being locked in a stable, punched in the face and then having some weird interactions with a local boy who holds his rabbit up by the ears. Even the woman who is meant to be his ally starts to act incredibly oddly as he tries to leave.
This is a town where his martyred father is so revered that the truth threatens to undermine their whole identity and so, by the end he has to choose whether to reveal what he’s learned or to allow the mystery to continue (think Lisa Simpson’s final choice in the episode ‘Lisa the Iconoclast). It’s a poignant ending, made all the more interesting by his physical inability to move away due to the poor condition of the railway line.
It’s nice to get around to seeing a film on the list that is one of the ‘hidden gems’ and have it live up to that designation. The whole setting of this town felt very much like a 1970’s Italian version of Twin Peaks – but without the backwards talking girl and the flaming playing cards. With that in mind, what wasn’t there to like.