The Spider's Stratagem (1970)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Psychological Drama  |   Run Time - 97 min.  |   Countries - Italy  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Dana Rowader

Bernardo Bertolucci made The Spider's Stratagem in 1970, the same year of his masterpiece The Conformist. The two films share much thematically, both probing the enigmas surrounding the phenomenon of fascism in Italy and presenting their stories through cryptic, creative editing. But where The Conformist explores a psychological aspect of fascism, The Spider's Stratagem further probes the movement's ambiguities. Set in a small Italian town as opposed to the big city of The Conformist, Stratagem questions the influence of fascism in a more remote environment, showing how the movement managed to both inspire detractors and spread a psychology of fear of such opposition. Borrowing from Citizen Kane in its plot structure, the film follows its protagonist, Athos Magnani (Giulio Brogi), as he tries to piece together just who his deceased father was, using the sometimes conflicting testimonies of those who knew him. In a brilliant performance as both father and son, Brogi is perfectly cast and holds the film up well; his performance as the father is fierce and enigmatic, and as the son, he displays just the right mix of confusion, doubt, and inadequacy in the face of his father's mythos. Bertolucci uses the same older actors who are recounting their stories to play their "younger" counterparts in the innumerable flashbacks, creating a surreal, unsettling effect. The dreamlike editing of the flashbacks and the film as a whole (beautifully constructed by editor Roberto Peripignani) weave together an intriguing but contradictory tale of the elder Magnani's heroism. But as the story of the "truth" is slowly revealed, the line between heroism and deceit becomes just as blurred as the townspeople's memories. Even after the town and the elder Magnani's secret is revealed, we are left with the feeling that we really do not know or understand him. The film seems to ask, what is a hero and what is a traitor, and what does it matter so many years later? This ambiguity stands in stark opposition to fascism's black-and-white ideology and symbolism, but the townspeople's seeming desire to remain in denial highlights the strength of such ideology. The Spider's Stratagem is a brilliantly executed film that also features gorgeous music and lush photography.