[Marxism] Another Pontecorvo film now available in DVD or VHS

Louis Proyect 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 
oil-well fire.)

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 
fish eventually.

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 
powerful film.

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