Monday, September 01, 2014

Behold a Pale Horse: Take II

I. Fred Zinnemann's Behold a Pale Horse (1964) -- continued.

There are aspects of this obliquely plotted film that remind me of the Coen Brothers (compare 2007's No Country for Old Men, for instance).

At one point in the movie, I expected the main protagonist to swoop in like James Bond or a Clint Eastwood character, having everything figured out - but no! 

At another point, I projected an easy ending like that of Martin Scorsese's The Departed (2006) -- but no! 

II. Lourdes. Insert Catholicism and "magical thinking." 

Not only is this a key element in Behold a Pale Horse, but here, too, an important aspect of the Spanish Civil War is evoked. The unwieldy coalition fighting against Franco's Nationalists to preserve the Republic included anarchist elements that turned violently on people of the cloth. The number of priests and nuns murdered during the war came to about 7,000, if memory serves. A blot on the Republican side that might have been avoided through more skillful efforts at winning over priests and nuns rather than killing them.

III. Civil Wars and Memory.

The inclusion of a padre as a major character in the midst of fratricidal conflict reminds me very much of The Fratricides, a novel about the Greek Civil War (1946-1949) by Nikos Kazantzakis published in English in 1964 (translated by Athena Gianakas Dallas). Kazantzakis, better known perhaps for Zorba the  Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ, covers some of the same issues as seen in Behold a Pale Horse -- a film which is itself based on Emeric Pressburger's 1961 novel, Killing a Mouse on Sunday.

The thing about civil wars is -- every inhabited place seems to have to endure at least one of them, they are vicious, and most notably -- they never seem to come to complete resolution or reckoning in memory or history. Civil wars go on and on for decades and centuries, morphing into other outlets that oftentimes include renewed flashes of violence.

Take the American Civil War (1861-1865) -- there are people living in the USA today who say they would join the Confederacy even now. Why? Because slavery was abolished? Because they claim the right of individual states to decide whether something like slavery -- or anything else at all -- should be abolished or changed, rather than a national government? That's what they say in the 21st century.

Take the Greek Civil War. The average Greek (if there is such a person) seems to wonder now, what was it about? What was the point of all that viciousness in the late 1940s, even after WWII? "I don't know. It's confusing." 

And finally for now, take the Spanish Civil War. What if, instead of bloody violence, calmer people had worked out a compromise, helped foster the working classes and living conditions for most people in general rather than prop up mostly the rich and powerful, what if Spanish society had evolved a rational separation of Church and State, offered something hopeful to all elements of that society? What might have happened over time is what is happening over time, despite the civil war, and despite economic setbacks. And so, what was the point of all the death and destruction?  Ask Spanish people today, see what they say. 

What do you say?

Today's Rune: Harvest/Signals. 


jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Daniela Rocca (as the bird was in 1955 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously, which is long since dead, unfortunately).

the sneering (homo-phobic) snob said...

I always admired Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, and Omar Sharif for their rampaging heterosexuality.

Charles Gramlich said...

Generally pretty good when it keeps you guessing and you don't get it quite right.

Luma Rosa said...

Oi, Erik!
Behold a Pale Horse, was ignored by critics and the public. In Brazil he was not released. With the internet and thought I could watch you talk nice about it. The director dared to come forward in the Cold, an atheist hero, communist and guerrilla war, dealing with a thorny subject, even using a photograph in black and white: go so against the grain did not favor the movie, which should be revered as a classic, failed at the box office and ended up being relegated to oblivion, absent from the repertoire of world criticism and still not released on DVD. In Spain, one of the biggest hits of the Franco film was Marcelino pan y vino (Marcelino, Bread and Wine, 1955), a Catholic and pious melodrama. In contrast to the Francoist commercial cinema and international successes of musical melodramas starring Sara Montiel. After a first generation of critics officers, who tried to show the real Spain, grotesque, crazy, sick, in ambiguous, metaphorical, symbolic works seen arise; or burlesque, sarcastic, dark humor... Not much different from the current country.