Sunday, March 31, 2013

Interval Twelve - Seven Beauties

A Review of Seven Beauties, a film by Lina Wertmuller
                                                  The cover of the film Seven Beauties
Released in 1975, this movie received nominations for Best Director, Best Actor, Best Screenplay and Best Foreign Film from the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, Screen Director’s Guild, and New York Film Critics Circle Awards.  
   Ths review  is written primarily by an associate who has served as a guide to all things Jewish, such as ceremonies and prayers for the blog A Ball for Genia. Here is his reaction to the movie—
   I’d never seen Lina Wertmuller’s movie Seven Beauties although, as a Jew, I’ve tried to see all movies, documentaries, docudramas  and fictions  relating even remotely to the Holocaust. Seeing Seven Beauties now, at a considerable distance from World War II, still evokes emotions relating to the horrors of that time.  Early in the movie, it becomes obvious that the nominations of Lina Wertmüller as Best Director, Giancarlo Giannini as Best actor, and the movie as Best Foreign Film, are justified.
   The star of Seven beauties is Giancarlo Giannini, who brilliantly plays Pasqualino Frafuso.  Because of Pasqualino’s reputation as a seducer (and perhaps a pimp), he gains the title the name Pasqualino Settebellezze (Pasqualino Seven Beauties), which implies that he is irresistible to women.  (He confesses he doesn’t know why because he thinks himself pretty ugly.)           
                                         Pasqualino Frafuso
     But this “virtue” proves to be a life saver later on when he is imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp.
     Torn between devotion to his sisters, and striving for success in his professional activity, he wends his way through a mixture of comic and tragic adventures. One of his adventures results in the accidental shooting of his sister’s fat pimp, and the problem of disposing of the body. He solves the problem by chopping the body up and loading it into three very heavy bundles, which he plans on shipping off  to three different cities. But the bundles  are very heavy—so heavy that he staggers about much as Charlie Chaplin would, which provides a comedy bit, especially when he has to fight off a big dog that is very curious as to what those bundles contain.                                 

      He is caught, of course, but convinces a trial court that he is insane.  While in an asylum and serving as an orderly, he rapes a female patient who is bound to a bed. To get rid of him, the asylum keepers force him into the Italian army. Apparently he deserts the army with a  friend, wanders around in a forest, steals food, and is caught by German soldiers, who put the two into a concentration camp.  Conditions  in the camp are so awful that he decides he will do anything to survive.
                                              Pasqualino the prisoner
     He decides to seduce  the camp commander, who is a formidable woman who must weigh at least 350 pounds, and who deals out death to the prisoners every day. He hopes he can do it—his survival depends on it.  His mother told him that every woman has a bit of sweetness in her and perhaps this one does.                                  
     He first attracts her attention by whistling a love song when she is near, then confesses his love.  She takes him up on it, and brings him to her chamber for the event.  But in another dark comic scene, he can’t “get it up”  because of hunger. She feeds him and he succeeds.  As a reward, she puts him in charge of his barracks, but only on the condition that he select six inmates for execution by a firing squad; otherwise, she will order the immolation of him and his entire barracks. He has no choice but to commit this atrocity in spite of whatever principles he has left. In addition, he has to shoot his best friend with a bullet to the head.
     But he does survive the concentration camp and the war, and returns to his village to the  triumphant acclaim of his sisters, who are now very happy in the company of numerous American soldiers and sailors.   But Pasqualino Settebelleze is a changed man, much chastened, and no longer the flippant lothario—        

                                          Pasqualino chastened                      He proposes marriage to a local beauty, and vows to have children—many children. . . and even hundreds of children!
In summaryIs Seven Beauties truly a Holocaust movie?  The components of this genre always seemed to be Nazis, Jews (or their persecuted counterparts such as gypsies, homosexuals, or captives from opposing countries).  Here we have allies of the Nazis, who, despite their illegal and/or immoral activities, still suffer the depredations of torture and imprisonment under Mussolini’s friends.  The depiction of the camp, its inmates and staff, appear to be as evil as movies showing Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and other hellholes of Nazi ignominy.                                                 
The primary members of the cast of Seven Beauties are:    
    Giancarlo Giannini as Pasqualino Frafuso, aka Settebellezze
   Fernando Rey as Pedro, the Anarchist Prisoner
   Shirley Stoler as The Prison Camp Commandant
   Elena Fiore as Concettina (a sister)
   Piero Di Iorio as Francesco (Pasqualino's comrade)
   Enzo Vitale as Don Raffaele
If you want to learn more about Seven Beauties, click on the link to Wikipedia.
Seven Beauties comes in a two-disk set.  The second disk provides for an interview with a charming Lina Wertmüller who is an ebullient 78 years of age. She relates the history of Italian films and the actors, based on her experience of the past 50 years.  It requires an understanding of Italian to really enjoy her life story.

 The indispensable Wikipedia offers an excellent summary of the life and work of Lina Wertmüller. The movie Seven Beauties is available from your local DVD store, and from and Barnes and Noble.                       


EPISODE THIRTEEN will be published on Monday, April 8. There we will find our  little group of refugees huddled in the house of Herr Wachter as the bombs fall around them.  An Episode Fourteen is planned, but will be cancelled, of course,  if the refugees do not survive the bombing. So, watch for Episode Thirteen, which will appear a week from this Monday!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Episode Twelve

                            An Evening of Bombs
   It is again the living room of Herr Wachter. Darkness has fallen,  and the room is dimly lit by the chandelier and scattered candles. It is Friday, the evening of the Sabbath, and a collection of nondescript chairs, stools and benches have been arranged for the congregation. The Rabbi is alone, and is preparing for the Kiddush, the ceremony that brings in the Sabbath. He is humming a passage from the ceremony. Since there is no Cantor, he must be both Rabbi and Cantor. Wachter enters, carrying a bottle.
Wachter: Nearly ready, Rabbi?
Rabbi:  Nearly so.
Wachter: Here’s wine for the ceremony. Not the best, but there's nothing best left.
Rabbi:  Thank you. More than adequate. Will you be joining us this evening, Herr   Wachter?
Wachter: No. Again you must excuse me.
Rabbi:  It would a great honor, and I mean that from the heart.
Wachter: I in turn am honored. You're not still trying to convert me, by any chance?
Rabbi:  Oh, no! Well … the thought had crossed my mind.
Wachter: You seem nervous.
Rabbi:  I am always nervous before a ceremony.
Wachter: But you've had very large congregations--surely a small group like this shouldn't make you nervous.
Rabbi:  It is the same, whether large or small--I'm nervous. And tonight especially, because I feel that we are ... are in great danger. Also, we have a special things to be thankful for.
Wachter: We do? What are they?
Rabbi:  The main thing—we still live. But then, look there--
   Dolek and Sharon have entered hand in hand, and are sitting quietly on a bench in the corner, lost in each other.
Wachter: Yes. That is special. I am glad.
   An air raid siren is heard

Rabbi:  And tonight, we'll pray especially for protection from the bombs.
Wachter: They're friendly bombs.
Rabbi:  Friendly bombs?
Wachter: I heard it on the radio. Allied bombs. the Allied armies are very near.
Rabbi:  Friendly bombs kill just as quick. If one hits this house, or sets it on fire, we'll be exposed to the world.
Wachter: Then pray extra hard tonight, Rabbi. Oh, Rabbi, I have been thinking ... about Heinrich Strassel.

Rabbi:  It is difficult not to think about Heinrich Strassel.
Wachter: Did I argue well?
Rabbi:  As well as one can argue with the devil.
Wachter: Yet I believe I lost the debate. I told him Thou Shalt Not Kill. Then I killed him.
Rabbi:  If you had not done so, it would have been death for all of us.
Wachter: I killed him in anger--shot him like a mad dog.
Rabbi:  He was a mad dog, and earned the death of a mad dog. He showed himself not only as a murderer of millions, but a thief and a lecher as well. Do you know, I believe there is some truth in our ancient legend of demon possession.
Wachter: He seemed to be two beings in one body. He treated Genia as a daughter, yet—
Rabbi:  –-yet he would have sent her to Auschwitz, without compunction. Pride and vanity and lust for power opened him to invasion by a Dybbuk--a Dybbuk from the uttermost depths of hell.
Wachter:  I killed him. I cannot forget that.
Rabbi:  You have saved many lives, Herr Wachter. Perhaps the Lord owes you a death--a necessary death.
Wachter: A necessary death? I never thought of it like that.
Rabbi:  And what about those lives you have saved, and you have saved so many. It is written "he that saves a single life saves the world entire."
Wachter: That is well written, Rabbi. I must read your scriptures some day.
Rabbi:  I can recommend it. For now, forget Heinrich Strassel.
Wachter: He was a good man, once. Look at the monster he became.
Rabbi:  Perhaps God puts such men on earth so that we may see evil in the flesh, and to be so repelled by it that we will follow a righteous path.
Wachter: But the poison that corrupted him, made him into a monster--that poison didn't die with Heinrich Strassel. And it won't die with the Third Reich, even if the Allies win this war. It will continue to tempt and corrupt good men. Is there no antidote, Rabbi? What can be done?
Rabbi:  We can tell the world. Let good come from looking at the face of the evil that has been done to my people. Then their sacrifice will not have been completely in vain.
Wachter: What a price to pay for such a lesson.
Rabbi:  The price has been paid. Let it now become the debt of mankind. Say, if that sermon is any example, you'd not only make a good Jew, but a good Rabbi as well!
Wachter: [With a laugh] I believe it it time for me to retire from the scene.
Rabbi:  [As Wachter exits, the Rabbi says quietly] May the Lord bless you and keep you, Albert Wachter.
   Itzhak enters, hesitatingly.
Itzhak! Will you be joining us this evening?
Itzhak:  I'm not sure.
Rabbi:  I've been thinking . . . about what happened to your .. . uh. . .
Itzhak:   . . . what happened to my family? You don't have to mince words with me, Rabbi.
Rabbi:  You said they sang "Here our voice, Oh Lord".
Itzhak:  You said it is The Prayer for the Dead.
Rabbi:  Yes, the Kaddish. [Weighing his words] If they who were about to die could believe, Itzhak, how can you who was again given the gift of life, not believe?
Itzhak:  [After a pause] I see your point, Rabbi. I'll stay for the--Kiddush--is that what you call it?

Rabbi:  Yes. May God and our ancient traditions bring you peace, Itzhak.
Itzhak:  Peace I need, Rabbi.
Rabbi:   If you seek it, you will find it, my son. All right, then. Now! [Claps hands, calls] Time for Kiddush, everyone!
                                        End of Episode Twelve
And so the scene is prepared, and the faithful come together again for prayer and consolation, while the bombs fall on the city.  What will happen next?
Stay tuned for our next interval on Monday, April 1, closely followed by Episode Thirteen on Monday, April 8, where you can find out what happens next to the "family" at Albert Wachter's house.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Interval Eleven - Some Interesting Literature

AS WE HAVE SEEN,  the week between each episode  of the play is devoted to accounts of the Holocaust, its origin, who instigated it, stories of survivors, and whatever else is relevant to the play and remembrance of the Holocaust. One of these accounts tells  of a short story with the title Address Unknown. This interval Eleven comprises a repeat of Interval Three, which told of existence of this  story—a  story that first  appeared in 1938—a story which has never been out of print, and which has sold millions of copies.   It is a story that should be in every library.
a              In Compelling words,  Address Unknown  alerted  the American people to the growing danger to the Jewish population of German-controlled Europe by the Nazi regime. The author  is Kathrine Kressman Taylor (1903-1996).

Kathrine Kressman Taylor

Address Unknown is credited with exposing, early on, the dangers of Nazism to the American public, and doing it well before the advent of the U.S. into the Second World War; the liberation of the concentration camps (and thereby the revelation of the full horror of the Nazi regime’s treatment of Jews in the German-controlled territories); and even before the thoroughly destructive pogrom known as Kristellnacht on the evening of 9-10 November 1938.

Taylor describes the motivation for the story in the Afterword (in the Simon &Schuster 2001 edition):

              A short time before the war, some cultivated, intellectual, warmhearted German friends of mine returned to Germany after living in the United States. In a very short time they turned into sworn Nazis. They refused to listen to the slightest criticism about Hitler. During a return visit to California, they met an old, dear friend of theirs on the street who had been very close to them and who was a Jew. They did not speak to him. They turned their backs on him when he held his hands out to embrace them. How can such a thing happen? I wondered. What changed their hearts so? What steps brought them to such cruelty? …. I began researching Hitler and reading his speeches and the writings of his advisors. What I discovered was terrifying. What worried me most was that no one in America was aware of what was happening in Germany and they also did not care. … But some students who had returned from studying in Germany told the truth about the Nazi atrocities. When their fraternity brothers though it would be funny to send them letters making fun of Hitler, they wrote back and said, “Stop it. We’re in danger. These people don’t fool around. You could murder one of these Nazis by writing letters to him.”

Address Unknown is an epistolary short story involving correspondence between a Jewish art dealer in San Francisco, Max Eisenstein, and his friend and business partner Martin Schulse, who only recently moved back to his native Germany with his wife and children. The letters were exchanged between 1932 and 1934. Bear in mind that Hitler came to power in 1933.

As we have seen in our discussion of Good (see Interval Two), again we have an educated man (Martin) drawn into the all-pervasive Nazi Party on the basis that it would be good for his standing, and that of his family. His wife becomes the toast of local society, and his son a proud member of the Hitler Youth League. Max, however, is disturbed by what he hears from acquaintances coming out of Germany, and of the treatment of Jews, even so early on in Hitler’s reign. This is borne out by the fact that Martin eventually asks Max to stop writing him as he cannot be seen to be corresponding with a Jew.

What transpires further is a tragic, moving story, told briefly but with great power, of betrayal and revenge. I would not deny you the pleasure (if you can call it so) of reading this story by giving anymore of the plot away. I would recommend this to everyone to read – it being short it takes no more than an hour at most, but its brevity belies its power.
Alistair Cooke said that Adolph Hitler was one of the greatest orators that he had ever heard. By his oratory, Hitler convinced the people of Germany to follow the horrible path he had laid out for them. It could happen in any society, no matter how seemingly stable, where an orator can appear and pervert that society to his desires. In his classic book It Can’t Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis described how it can happen here in this America, and in a form as perverted and vicious as what happened in Nazi Germany. So let us—
                                 BEWARE the ORATOR!

If you wish to buy the Sinclair Lewis book, go first to your local bookseller, and failing that, click on  It Can’t Happen Here. You can also find Kathrine Kressmann Taylor’s book readily available on Amazon in the US and the UK, and it is also available for Kindle. It has been translated into many, many languages and continues to be considered a classic piece of fiction to this day. 

AND NOW, an exhibit from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum—a box car of the type used to transport millions of Jews, Gypsies, and other victims to concentration camps such as Auschwitz, and in this example, the death camp Sobibor. The camps themselves were a living hell (and a dying hell) and the trip to them similarly equally hellish. The Old Testament depictions of Hell with its devils with pitchforks and the eternal fires is quite harrowing, but those who experienced the Holocaust first hand might say that they might have preferred the traditional Hell, compared to what they experienced. (It must have sickened the Evil One Himself!)

A railcar used for transportation of Jews to the
extermination camp Sobibor. The high box at the end
housed soldiers who shot any who tried to escape.
Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.
On permanent exhibit at the Museum.

When in Washington, Be sure to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum!  You can also  visit online. It is extremely well worth a visit either way, for it is superb in its presentation. It is also a gold mine of information about the Holocaust, and organized for any search you may wish to make. Many have found members of their families once thought dead, but found to be alive through the archives of the Museum.

Next week, on to Episode Twelve, which bears the title An Evening of Bombs. The distant sounds of bombing have been heard during the last two episodes, and now the bombs will  arrive. What will happen to the house of Herr Wachter, with its precious cargo of Jewish refugees, including little Genia?

The following two episodes will tell the story.