23 November 2007
QUIEMADA! (BURN!) Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo, 1969 - Post Colonialist Film Making
Sometimes the overwhelming power of a film in the ouvere of a director can be drawback especially when that film comes to stand as a historical testament of the civilian resistance of an entire Nation. Quiemada! was made a few years after Pontecorvo's masterpiece, The Battle of Algiers, and recently was restored back to its original cut of 132 minutes. Unfortunately, I have just discovered that the version I watched was neither a restored print nor was it the new version with the longer running time. Nevertheless, the film not only contains one of Brando's greatest performances as William Walker, a ruthless and manipulative British Agent who is working on behalf of the forces of English imperialism and the Colonial Sugar Corporations. With the advent of DVD, it seems as though so many films are being rediscovered and reappraised by film criticism and this obviously has an effect on the careers of certain directors like the Italian film maker Gillo Pontecorvo who's career is regularly reduced to The Battle of Algiers. Quiemada! is a post colonial exploration of exploitation, slavery and marxist ideology. The clearly Marxist vein that runs through the film is a direct contribution of the scriptwriter, Franco Solinas who wrote a number of interesting political Spaghetti Westerns in the 60s and 70s alongside his work on The Battle of Algiers and Costa Gavras's State of Siege. Apparently, this was the film that persuaded Brando to reject a role in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and what is more interesting is that this is the film that Brando personally felt contained his best performance. Brando's character is sent by the British to the island of Quiemada where he instigates a revolt amongst the slaves and overturns the Pourtegese grip on power so that he can secure British rule over the island and control the production and distribution of sugar. Walker finds a leader in the black plantation worker, Jose Dolores, who he encourages to rebel against his Pourtegese masters. Inspired by the post colonialist writing of Frantz Fanon, the character of Jose Dolores becomes a revolutionary leader who by the end of the film realises that martyrdom is the only means left of spreading the seeds of dissent and resistance amongst his fellow people. Brando gives a genuinely moving performance and this would also mark the beginning of the second phase in his acting career, giving him a new sense of direction which is also evident in The Godfather and The Last Tango in Paris and even his mumbling incoherence as Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. The final few minutes of the film are beautifully realised and played out with Brando's egocentric and ruthless character heading back to catch the next ship to England whilst Jose announces to Walker that the notion of civilization that the white man supposedly worships is nothing but a hypocritical perspective of guilt. In light of what is happening in the world today, Jose says to one of the soldiers who is escorting him back to the fort for his execution, 'True freedom is not that which is given but taken willfullly'. Such a statement continues to hold relevance to the situation in Iraq where the notion of freedom is that of forced imposition, and the people of Iraq have started to realise that true freedom cannot be given to a people by another foreign power as this is a false kind of freedom, a freedom which comes with a price.