the fakers

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Flavio Aguiar*

As farces unfold, corpses pile up, old age and the future are trampled underfoot… along with reason.

The Corona-Virus and the situation we are facing make us visit old themes. Old books. Old movies...

revisited The invention of Morel, a novel by Argentine Adolfo Bioy Casares, published in 1940, which I had read in the 1960s. A fugitive sentenced to life imprisonment in Venezuela arrives at an island in the Caribbean that is supposedly deserted and suspected of having been hit by a strange and unknown plague. Driven by circumstances, he thinks he has achieved perfect isolation, which will protect him. There are some mysterious and abandoned buildings on the island: a residential building, which he identifies as a “museum”; an engine room, often invaded by tides; a pool of rotten water and dead fish…

However, from time to time mysterious visitors appear, who fill him with panic, as he thinks they can give him away. There are many, but two stand out the most: a mature man, bearded, dressed like a tennis player, who seems to be the leader of the group; and a young woman, named Faustine, who is the target of attempts to approach the “bearded man”, who is the Morel of the title. The pursued ends up falling in love with the girl, although she never says a word to him; she doesn't even seem to see him.

Visitors maintain strange habits, as they always do the same things, always say the same phrases, from time to time they disappear and reappear, like leaving for and returning from nowhere. To complicate things, they dive into the pool whose waters appear clean and dirty, depending on the occasion; and in the heavens coexist two suns and two moons… Well, those who know the story know what I'm talking about, and I don't want to spoil the suspense of the narrative for those who don't know it. The focus I put on the agenda is the ethical drama that assaults the fugitive character, pressed between unveiling and destroying everything or joining the ghostly pantomime that he witnesses day after day, week after week, guessing the tragedy that lies behind the scenes of it all.

Is this not the drama we are experiencing, trapped like fugitives on an island of isolation that supposedly protects us from the insanity we are witnessing, both because of the Corona-Virus that surrounds us and the Pocket-Virus that assaults us daily with the same phrases, the same insults to intelligence, in a repetition that is both boring and tragic?

Today I watched one of the VTs of the usual farce, mounted day after day in front of the Palácio do Planalto, with the bunch of fanatical hysterics who scream broken syntax phrases supporting their "myth" and alongside the journalists insulted by the talking virus that calls and the media they represent “scoundrels” and “liars”, both parties – minions and journalists – contained in their playpen like children from the past, who stayed in these enclosures to be contained in their movements.

Day after day we see, in ghostly images, these shadows of “people” and “media” moving monotonously in the same old performances (although apparently they rant or ask different questions every day), like the prisoners of Morel’s enterprise in novel, whose aspiration is to achieve immortality. Messiah's, more modestly, but as his name indicates, is to cling to the Palácio do Planalto, which from conquest became his lifeline to avoid opprobrium and condemnation for crimes... well, more of irresponsibility than of responsibilities...

And so we sail these seas. We witness fantastic scenes: the gravediggers of yesterday's democracy are transformed into champions of it today; the evil priests who helped release the beast of the political apocalypse that dismantles Brazil and sacrifices its people on the altar of the virus become vestals of the republican temple, calling for balance and restraint on the part of the pachyderm they released in the china shop… And there is also the super-hoax called Donald Trump…

For those who have read, and for those who will read the novel, there is Morel to articulate all this!

At another point, but linked to our drama, I reviewed The Cursed Gods, by Luchino Visconti, The fall of the Gods, in Italian, although the original language of the film is English, focused on the story of a family of German aristocracy, the Essenbecks.

What a superb film! And how much it teaches about our moment, although released in 1969, therefore 51 years ago.

Before getting into the merits of the plot, I want to point out the wonderful performances: Helmut Berger drowns out the perfidious, at the same time weak and arrogant Martin Essenbeck; Ingrid Thulin puts on a show as Sophie, her domineering and fragile mother; Dirk Bogarde plays the greedy, venal, treacherous betrayed Friedrich Bruckmann, who covets everything; Reinhard Kolldehoff gives life to the grotesque, drunkard and pathetic Konstantin von Essenbeck, member of the SA, who as such will end up murdered by the SS in the “Night of the Long Daggers” (June 30 – July 01, l934); Albrecht Schönhals acts briefly but brilliantly as the family patriarch, Baron Joachim von Essenbeck, anti-Nazi more out of contempt for “upstarts” than out of democratic principles; there is also Helmut Griem, who plays a solid and stony Aschenbach, an SS officer who, deep down, is in charge of the action, aiming to transform the Essenbeck family's ironworks into a war industry. Let us also praise the point of the Brazilian Florinda Bolkan, in the role of the prostitute Olga, who became one of Visconti's chosen ones.

The film, loosely inspired by the Krupp family story and the novel The Buddenbrooks, by Thomas Mann, exposes the complete moral degradation that takes over the family and people who gravitate around it, as is the case of Bruckmann, lover of Sophie, daughter-in-law of the Baron, widow of her son who is considered a hero of the First World War.

With Sophie's connivance, Bruckmann murders the old Baron and blames Herbert Thalmann (Umberto Orsini), the vice-president of the steel company, also an anti-Nazi and who is forced to flee so as not to be arrested by the Gestapo. Control of the company was supposed to pass to the boorish Konstantin, but through his mother's influence the Baron's grandson, Martin, hands over executive command to Bruckmann, who has connections with the SS Aschenbach.

As the Essenbecks and Bruckmanns became entangled with the SS, after the Baron's death, the murders continued and the family morally degraded, on a journey of no return. The “lesson” of the plot is that, given the first step of degradation, the others become inevitable, as in a Greek tragedy, until the final moment of the film, when Martin, who practices all imaginable perversions, from pedophilia to the rape of his own Mother, now dressed like the SS man he has become, gives the Nazi salute in front of two of the corpses he helped sow. We, viewers from “outside” the film, know that this tragedy is just the prelude to a bigger one, with around 85 million dead on all continents and the destruction of several countries.

The film gives food for thought, if we project its prediction, that the loss of the moral dimension has no limits once it has begun, onto the pigsties of the circus of horrors set up in front of the Palácio do Planalto, where shadows of people who have broken ties with any circle of rationality and ethics, hurling curses and fanatical salutations, in front of representatives of a media that, for the most part, also broke ties with journalistic decency and now reaps the insults of the monstrosity they helped to create.

Likewise, the faker who occupies the White House, in Washington, invents all kinds of lies to cling to the power he has conquered, with the connivance and complicity, in addition to that of his direct assistants, who are shredding millions of people along his path. citizens who continue to believe in him and in the "manifest destiny” of his nation to dominate the world, now in the name of “America First” to which Bolsonaro bows and shamelessly wants to make Brazil bow.

To what greater tragedy will these farces lead us? We are already in it: while the farces unfold, the corpses accumulate, old age and the future are being trampled underfoot… along with reason.

Good reading, and good movie! And the men of the future, when they think of us, let them do so with indulgence, as Brecht wrote.

* Flavio Aguiar is a writer, retired professor of Brazilian literature at USP and author, among other books, of Chronicles of the World Upside Down (Boitempo)


Adolfo Bioy Casares. Morel's invention. Sao Paulo, Cosac Naify

the damn gods (La Caduta I gave)

Italy, 1969, 156 minutes

Directed by: Luchino Visconti

Cast: Helmut Berger; Ingrid Thulin; Dirk Bogarde; Reinhard Kolldehoff; Albrecht Schönhals; Florinda Bolkan.


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