If an adjective that characterizes the night of the past fourth of March was to be found, this could only be “surreal“, as thrillingly exclaimed during the ceremony of the Oscars. “It’s so surreal…” Hands clasped around the statuette. The sight dazzled by the spotlights. Electrified steps leaning towards the stage, which, apparently, meet their estuary in an indistinct molasses of imprecise sensorial changes that feel so overwhelming, due to the emotion and the uniqueness of an instant perpetually desired, to declare the surreality of reality. Although the Academy Award, as Federico Fellini said, reaches its supremacy in the aura of cinema’s mythology, the path that leads to it is anything but mythical. It needs professionalism together with luck, a lot of experience and ability to read the veiled needs of man to then give the latter, at last, the mirror of himself. This is cinema and, as in all of art, man rediscovers his own being: it makes the invisible tangible and clarifies the confusion. So, the foundations of the exclamation “surreal” are far from being such; actually these are well precise and outlined. So, as one should not be surprised by the victory of James Ivory for the screenplay of Call Me by Your Name or Roger Deakins for the sublime cinematography of Blade Runner 2049, I think it is wrong to fall to the ground jaw-dropped and exasperated in front of the results of the Italian elections of this fourth of March. We could have expected it.
I am not an expert in politics, nor is this my field of interest, but my lack of knowledge on the subject has been sufficient to formulate a prediction that has proved to be correct. This should make us think. I didn’t base myself on statistics or carefully researched political programs. Sufficient were daily observations of the common mood, of malleable ideals and long conversations with legs crossed, sungalsses, a relaxed posture and the torso lening on coffee or a spritz, around the bar table. Hearsay: it’s the greatest forge for the common thought. Ethical- economic speculations based on emptiness and the necessity of immediacy. The stimulus coming from reading or cultural deepening takes time and the latter is incompatible with the speed of our present. Moreover, all publicity is good publicity and suddenly ridiculousness penetrates and becomes seductive.
Art, the great mirror of man, reveals this one’s needs often anticipating its inclinations and desires. Social satire shows reality from an apparent distance, often inebriating, to then reveal that it is not so remote but intrinsic in the network of current events. It is sufficient to consider the prophetic power of Nanni Moretti’s Habemus Papam, which sees the new elected pontiff renouncing his office. Two years later, Benedict XVI abdicated and unsettled the whole world. Returning to our original thematic, but without wandering away from cinema, many directors have proved to be able to perceive the current slow European inclination towards a progressive detachment from democracy. Excessive do-gooding? Maybe yes. Unconscious crumbling of the cultural identity? Although it would be interesting to analyse the social causes of this undoubted event, I must limit myself in presenting a film for which, I must admit, I had strong prejudices. Although imperfect and full of caricatures, I was surprised by the veiled density of reflexion that it offers, as well as its clear social complaint.
This film is Look Who’s Back directed by David Wnendt, strarring Oliver Masucci as Hitler, Fabian Busch, Katja Riemann and Christoph Maria Herbst. The Führer mysteriously reappears in the Berlin of 2014. Weirded, he is spotted by an aspiring TV director who, traveling through the German countryside and interviewing people, launches him as a new television phenomenon. The style adopted by Wnendt oscillates between comedy and documentary. The abundant use of hand-held camera and shoulder-rig, together with a saturated but clean photograph, gives a realistic tone to the general atmosphere. To liven up the characters is the screenplay, functional for Hitler (Oliver Masucci) that, without betraying his historical profile, seems to confer him an apparent humanity (I repeat: apparent), while it lowers the quality on the secondary characters which often, even due to the combination with a semi-documentary style, seem to come straight out of a Real Time broadcast. Is this a conscious choice of the director or stylistic error? What can be said is that these flaws are easily forgiven by taking the film as a whole.
From a comedic atmosphere, slowly emerges the individual’s ignorance regarding ethical and social issues. Racist discourses on immigration, racial purity and pseudo-Darwinian considerations on minorities’ IQ: this is the result of hearsay speeches lost in the daily emptiness and stolen by wind: breeze for the single, typhoon for the community. Laughter, despite being often silent and desaturated, masks the general unrest of the reality depicted; yet the latter, thanks to the first, succeeds in penetrating the spectator, like the rostrum of a roman ship, becoming entangled with him. The comedy of Look Who’s Back silently takes on a double historical-metaphorical position; as the spectator laughs at the events portrayed, so people in the past took lightly certain politically professed conditions. The result is a gradual identification with these declarations. On the other hand, all publicity is good publicity and today how many times have we laughed?
A further aspect of Wnendt’s film that deserves to be analysed is the sub-complaint to the cultural degradation deriving from the lack of actual stimuli by mass media. In the film, Hitler compares TV programs and contemporary music to those of his own time or previous. Masterchef opposed to Ibsen and hip-hop to Wagner. The ability of the people to recognize and appreciate works of an artistic value has faded or, in some cases, totally expired. Today’s necessity of immediacy undoubtedly falls within the causes, as a scene in the film wants to show; but above all it is the recurring theme of the unconscious empathy with what at first is considered ridiculous, distant and playful, to impose itself as the main guilty cause. What is proposed to the people is passively absorbed by it, lowered into the depths of desire and conscience, clouding its critical judgment. Using the words of Theodor Adorno we could talk about culture industry.
In the end, through an example of metacinema that recalls the final scene of Jodorowsky’s The Scared Mountain, the director launches a reflexive core linked to the being of the man himself. Open to interpretation, it could be caught as a corrupt view of humanity. The individual person tends to evil due to his own nature. This would justify the acceptance, even if passive, of inhumane conditions towards thirds for the achievement of a personal illusory welfare. Putting ourselves on guard against this intimate sinister vein, hope seems to come only from the awareness of its existence and therefore, salvation seems to be in the shelter from ignorance. After all, a mind that thinks is hardly flexible while real judgment saves man from the affiliation with invisible impositions. We should ask ourselves the reason of our laughter and often, search for the intent hidden behind it.