#18 - Sacco & Vanzetti (Giuliano Montaldo)

Here's to you, Nicola and Bart 

One great thing about movies, apart from the storytelling pleasures (and other kinds of pleasures) they can provide, is that sometimes you can learn quite a lot from a film. Like this film for example. I’ve never heard of Sacco and Vanzetti before looking up this film. And what inspired me to look it up was a song from the film. But after some research (i.e. reading the Wikipedia pages) of the men, their case and the movie I knew it was something I’d find interesting. And after much search I finally got my hands on the film.

Now, my knowledge of the case itself is still very shallow, so I’m not going to go in to factual errors that may be found in the film or whatever. I don’t think I could even tell you what they are. No, instead I’m going to judge the film as a self sustained work of art; that is, as it should be seen. And on those terms it proves itself to be a remarkable film about two remarkable men.

The film’s plot kicks off with the arrest of the two anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, and follows their initial statements, their unjust trial and the imprisonment. It goes at lengths to portray all the duplicitous tactics used by the forces of opposition, and all because of the political views and nationality of the accused.

What it does well is that it does not sugar-coat a well known fact about the early 20th century USA, like a Hollywood movie surely would. It portrays the racism and prejudice of the upper class citizens towards the immigrants and working-class people, which gives the movie a strong and topical contemporary message as well. And at the time this case inspired mass protests, all around the globe, for the release of the two men.

The politics underlining the film are hard to ignore as well. At the time the Galleanists (a radical anarchist branch in the US, lead by one Luigi Galleani) where bombing various institutions, and while Sacco and Vanzetti where active anarchists nothing has ever directly linked them to any of the bombings, nor the shooting and robbery that they where trialed for. And the film ultimately portrays their battle as a battle of two men against a whole system, where powerful conspiratorial forces are dealing against them, and are out to destroy not only the men but also the symbol that they’ve become.

Apart from this compelling human narrative at the center of the film the political theme is the one that strikes true as well. Anarchy is a system without a system; a utopian vision where there is no government in the classical sense to rule over the working class, a flat system where everyone is truly equal. And the great capitalist interest in USA will, of course, never tolerate such a movement. Or at least that’s what the case of Sacco and Vanzetti in this film is showing.

Dramatically there is a lot to take in here and it all culminates in one of the most well known humanist speeches, given by Bartolomeo Vanzetti, after which the film unspools in to its tragic conclusion.

But the note that it leaves on is completely uplifting, to no small part thanks to the truly marvelous direction and acting in the final scenes. What carries over the most is a sense of ultimate compassion towards the men and the injustice they faced. And the acting by Gian Maria Volonte gives these last shots of the film a note of utter defiance that leads to catharsis, unleashed by the great song* that brought me here in the first place.


* "Here’s to you" - by Ennio Morricone and Joan Baez; Performed by Joan Baez

Original title: Sacco e Vanzetti


Gian Maria Volonte - Bartolomeo Vanzetti
Riccardo Cucciolla - Nicola Sacco
Cyrill Cusack - Frederic Katzman
Milo O'Shea - Fred Moore

Original language: Italian, English

Sacco & Vanzetti on IMDb

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