Bergman's Guernica

Dame Barbara Hepworth, Three Forms, 1969


A film that could gain cyclopean (and prophylactic) dimensions, if it is sufficiently publicized

It is not uncommon to read or hear, in different media, the expression “serpent's egg”, with the meaning of something evil that is being gestated or hatched. It could be a reference to Ukraine's recent past, it could be to Brazil's present. The meaning is inexorably linked to the emergence of Nazism, because of a film by Ingmar Bergman, released in 1977: the serpent's egg.

Theater lovers know that the expression was not created by the genius Swedish filmmaker, but extracted from a Shakespearean speech, from the play Julius Caesar. Who utters it is Brutus, Caesar's ethical and political counterpoint, who ends up stabbing him. “Think of it as a serpent's egg that would hatch; as its kind would become pernicious, it must be killed in the shell.”

The Elizabethan drama promotes a conflict between two antagonists who, deep down, are very similar. Supported by equally remarkable characters (Marco Antonio, Cassio, Pórcia, Calpúnia), the play gradually reveals the moral complexity of the characters, who try to balance their actions with qualities (idealism, strength, nobility, ascendancy over their peers) and defects (weaknesses , indecision, cowardice and ethical dilemmas).

Bergman, a great theater enthusiast, took Shakespeare's cue to create his most explicitly political film. Produced by Dino de Laurentis, in a German and American co-production, the action takes place in Berlin, November 1923. Devastated by the First War, with hyperinflation corroding the economy, rising unemployment and an unavoidable political crisis, the Weimar Republic is dying.

The film follows a few days in the life of an American Jewish circus artist, Abel (played by David Carradine), after finding his brother Max dead in the room of the boarding house where they live. The revelation of the suicide, right at the beginning of the film, is a lesson in dramatic conciseness, a sequence-shot where Abel leaves a festive celebration, goes up a staircase and sees his brother dead in bed with a gunshot wound to his mouth.

Abel goes looking for his brother's ex-wife, Manuela (the Bergmanian muse Liv Ulmann), who works in a brothel. Shortly afterwards he takes a job at a clinic, where experiments are being carried out on patients. The background of the whole plot is the desperate climate where the Nazi snake is being hatched.

We cannot classify Bergman's film as a metaphor, but as a historical account with the intention, perhaps didactic, of illuminating the greatest European tragedy of the XNUMXth century. Bergmanian moviegoers, used to existential and introspective silences, filled with subliminal quotations from Greek and (perhaps) Nordic classics, did not like the plot. They criticized the American actor, Roliudian production, the ostensibly political plot.

It is Guernica by Bergman. Some art critics also turned up their noses at the explicit denouncement of war in Pablo Picasso's mural. It was not innovative in relation to the artist's previous work, it abdicated the exuberant colors of the founding works of Cubism, sister cousins ​​of Fauvism, it used only tones of beige, gray, white and black, to accentuate the pictorial drama. But who cares about art critics when the future of humanity hangs in the balance? The artist from Malaga represented, in an urgent and symbolic way, all the horror of the war that was tearing his native Spain apart.

Much has already been written about the Guernica by Picasso. They found signs, symbols, metaphors, metonyms, archetypes and myths on its surface. Much less paper was spent on Bergman's work, which is understandable. After all, the filmmaker made his film-denouncement of Nazism in a space and time where several preceded it. It was not premonitory, nor absolutely original, any more than Picasso was. The horrors of war had already found their great Spanish translator in Goya two centuries earlier.

However, the legends surrounding the Guernica traveled the world, and the impact of the work proved to be overwhelming. The most famous of the stories tells that Picasso, in Paris, was visited by German officers, during the war. Upon seeing a photo of the Guernica, an officer asked: "Did you make it?" Picasso would have replied: "No, it was you."

Bergman did not have to face Nazi officials, as far as we know. But by making the most eccentric film of his renowned dramaturgy, he caused a certain scandal among his fans, made purists turn up their noses, and won the admiration of a legion of anti-fascists around the world.

Launched 45 years ago, the serpent's egg it is a film to be reviewed, urgently. Not just revised, but disseminated, debated, especially among younger people. The frightening resemblance to what is happening today in Brazil, on several levels, is didactic. The formation of militias, the persecution of artists, the praise of torture and the military dictatorship, unemployment, growing inflation, humiliating poverty, exacerbated religious or racial prejudice, everything seems to repeat itself.

If in Germany they persecuted Jews, here in the evangelical-militia republic black people and religions of African origin are persecuted. The motives may not be the same, but the disastrous effects are the same. Trade unionists are persecuted for the same reason, here and there. The left, same. The authoritarian, bellicose and destructive vocation has never been more evident than in the recent statement by a Secretary for the Promotion of Culture announcing the sponsorship of projects, with resources from the Rouanet Law, to encourage the use of weapons by ordinary citizens.

Even if it is bravado, it is symptomatic and worrying that Taurus, the largest firearms manufacturer in the country, has invested in the “civilizing” project (amazing, is the adjective used by the government!). Are we or are we not seeing the serpent's egg being hatched?

We need to recover the Guernica by Bergman. A film that could gain cyclopean (and prophylactic) dimensions, if it is sufficiently publicized. It must be displayed in schools, clubs, associations, unions and churches. Suitable for children, nephews, grandchildren, neighbors and friends. Along with And then (Dennis Gansel, 2008) and the white ribbon (Michael Haneke, 2010), is a work of denunciation of Nazi-fascism which, putting into perspective the opinion of film buffs and art historians, may be much more important, in humanistic terms, than wild strawberries, just like the Guernica the is in relation to Demoiselles d'Avignon.

* Daniel Brazil is a writer, author of the novel suit of kings (Penallux), screenwriter and TV director, music and literary critic.


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