[Marxism] Another Pontecorvo film now available in DVD or VHS
lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Aug 13 09:18:52 MDT 2005
The Wide Blue Road
In a remote and picturesque fishing village on an island off the coast of
southern Italy, the local men have lined up to sell their fish to the owner
of the only refrigerator in town. With this economic leverage, he forces
them not only to accept a lower-than-market price but his insults as well.
He refers sneeringly to the small size of their catch as "sardines."
Squarciò (Yves Montand) maneuvers to the front of the line with his catch,
which is rich with yellowfin tuna and sea bream that can command high
prices on the mainland where the wealthy live. Unlike the other men,
Squarciò relies neither on skill nor uses a seine. His secret, which is
common knowledge in the village even to the local cop, is that he uses
In one of the opening scenes in "The Wide Blue Road," we see Squarciò at
work. While sitting on a seaside rock with an artillery shell clenched
between his knees, he struggles to unscrew the cap of the shell. Once it is
off, he can pour the explosive powder into a homemade bomb. His two young
sons stand warily at a distance watching their father at work, sweat
pouring from his anxious face. Perhaps Montand's riveting performance in
the 1953 "Wages of Fear," his first screen performance, inspired Gillo
Pontecorvo to use him in the 1957 "The Wide Blue Road," his debut film. (In
"Wages of Fear," Montand plays a down-and-out Frenchman in Mexico who is
paid to transport a truckload of nitroglycerine up a bumpy dirt road to the
top of a mountain, where it will be used to extinguish an out-of-control
Pontecorvo went on to direct two masterpieces of leftwing film, the 1965
"Battle of Algiers" and the 1969 "Quemada" (Burn). As an Italian Communist
film-maker, Pontecorvo was not the typical social realist. Starting with
"The Wide Blue Road," he always has had his eye on the dialectic of
selfishness transforming itself into social consciousness. In both "Battle
of Algiers" and "Burn" the transformation is complete as the two
protagonists of each film dedicate themselves to the struggle.
In "The Wide Blue Road," the struggle against individualism is much more
torturous. For most of the film's narrative Squarciò is the defiant
outsider. It is not so much that he seeks wealth; rather he is obeying an
imperative to stay above water both literally and figuratively. It is this
instinct for survival that makes him play by his own dirty rules. He has
bitter memories of being a legal fisherman. When bad weather made it
impossible to fish for a number of months, he watched helplessly as his
father died from lack of medical attention that he could not afford.
When the cops are about to catch him in the act of throwing a bomb into the
water, he sinks the boat, including the new motor that he paid a small
fortune for. Later, facing economic ruin, he dives into the water to
salvage the motor, nearly drowning in the process.
Squarciò is neither an evil person nor unlikable. All of the other
fishermen, while hating his destructive practices, still like him as a
person. It is only toward the climax of the film when they have formed a
co-op, including a refrigerator, that their goals and his become
irreconcilably opposed. His decision to continue bombing not only would
cost him their friendship but his own life.
While "The Wide Blue Road" is primarily a film that addressed the key
questions facing the left in the 1950s, particularly the need to forge
collective bonds of working-class solidarity in a time of burgeoning
individualism, it also anticipates questions that would emerge in the 1960s
under the rubric "Tragedy of the Commons."
In 1968, Garrett Hardin published a paper by that name in "Science," which
was based on the 1833 work of William Foster Lloyd, an amateur
mathematician. He tried to understand the dilemma that ranchers faced when
they herded cattle on a common pasture. As a rational economic being, each
herdsman seeks to maximize his gain. For each additional animal, the
herdsman has an economic gain. However, each herdsman reaches the same
result - ruin by overgrazing the "free'' good.
The fishermen in "The Wide Blue Road" even try to convince Squarciò of the
need to respect the commons in the beginning of the film. He counters with
the argument that he only dynamites on the open sea and not near the shore
where they fish with nets. Even he understands, no matter how much he
rationalizes, that if everybody followed his own example, there would be no
The reality is that we are facing a tragedy of the commons on the sea
today, but the instrument of its destruction is not dynamite but
"improvements" in the means of production.
According to the Food and Agriculture Administration (FAO), a US agency,
the present capacity of the world's fishing fleets is 200% of the world's
available fisheries. Over the past 50 years, technological breakthroughs in
the fishing industry have far exceeded nature's ability to reproduce
itself. The biggest change has been the introduction of sonar, a wartime
innovation. Many of the first new fishing trawlers were actually converted
WWII submarine hunters.
In the early 1950s, new ships were built from the ground up that could
catch 500 tons of fish a day. Huge trawl nets brought the catch on the deck
and dumped it into onboard processing and freezing facilities. In the past,
ships had to return to port quickly before the fish spoiled. Now equipped
with freezers they could spend months at sea, sweeping up vast quantities
of fish. They roamed the planet in search of profits. In 1970 the tonnage
of all fishing boats was 13,616. In 1992 it was 25,994, a 91% increase.
Capital simply flowed to the profitable fishing industry with little regard
to the long-term consequences.
One of the consequences of the industrial trawling model is that
large-scale production techniques generate huge amounts of waste. The nets
draw unwanted species that are simply discarded. The FAO estimates that
discarded fish total 27 million tons each year, about 1/3 of the total
catch. This includes sea mammals, seabirds and turtles. While Greenpeace
activists fight for the life of the unfortunate porpoise, many other
species are disappearing without fanfare. The loss is serious since all of
these species interact with each other in the marine ecosystem and make
natural reproduction possible.
"The Wide Blue Road" deserves the widest audience possible. We are grateful
to Jonathan Demme and Dustin Hoffman who have financed its reappearance
this year. Now showing at the Film Forum in New York City, it very well
might make an appearance in video. Look for it. It is an exceptionally
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