“I’m nothing, I can do anything for that”. Submission obediently (ie: to a grandiose film)

Europe ’51 a 1952 film with what appears to be a manifesto title is misleading. Signed by Roberto Rossellini, it won the International Prize at the Venice Film Festival: the jury included Giuseppe Ungaretti. The film was admired with helplessness: no one doubted the cinematic expertise, the greatness of the director; the story is rather the result of countless hands and looks – the subject comes from Fellini and Tullio Pinelli, revised by Rossellini, the screenplay counts among others Mario Pannunzio, Brunello Rondi, Sandro De Feo, Diego Fabbri – coldly he waited for you. In summary, it tells the story of Irene Girard’s descent into the underground of the soul. The wife of a high-level manager, used to juggling the high-level tunnels of “good” Rome and proud of her wealth, Irene finds herself in a crisis after the death of her son. The child, often alone, dressed with aristocratic precision, throws himself down the stairs of the house where he lives, he is nine years old. Irene plunges into an intimate delirium, into a pain that makes her implode: she doesn’t scream, she doesn’t go mad; it is as if the copy of himself, in plaster, crumbles internally between the ankles and the lungs. Aware of the meaninglessness of her own life, between cold jewels and vain laurels, the woman roams the suburbs, hungry for wrecks and beggars, works for everyone in the suburbs, becomes a servant, serves in the factory, goes to the sick, who last to those who live on the fringes of the term, terminal, who embrace tuberculous prostitutes, embody the pain of others, accept abuse of power, be stolen and misunderstood.

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Irene Girard is interpreted by Ingrid Bergman, wonderfully made to measure, a kind of icon, an authentic lamb that surrenders to sacrifice without preaching, surrenders to holy humility without expecting anything, not complaining about anything. Alberto Moravia – wrote about it in “L’Europeo” – Bergman appreciated (“Perhaps never before has this unique actress expressed her talent in such a sensitive, vivid and communicative way”); he didn’t like the film, burdened by an “abstract and unrealistic ambition”, by “bubbly ideological discussions”. Behind Irene’s veil he recognized the figure of Simone Weil, “a kind of lay saint, both because of the laborious coherence of her ideas and actions and because of the spiritual height of her character. And at the same time, as I said, he was an extremely characteristic and almost symbolic figure of today’s Europe, ruined and torn between East and West, but still the bearer of the highest cultural and moral values”.

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So what makes Moravia afraid? Irene’s vertical choice, the subversion of conventions, “rebellious against any established society” which he writes leads to “extravagance, self-destruction and above all actual isolation”. That’s what upset Moravia: he called extravagance and isolation the privilege of poverty, he calls Self-destruction the glory of those who silently sanctify the mud; suspicious of the individual bogged down in the sacred that swarms among the stigmata of the world. We seem to hear the words that Mikhail Suslov, “Party for Ideological Issues”, will address to Vasily Grossman ten years later: “You question everything… You just isolated yourself”. That isolated: here they are, these daredevils who put a stop to the austerity of the educated, the arrogance of the powerful. So Simone Weil is fine as long as you are Lawas long as it stays in the giant silos cultural system; a movie is useful if you deal with it social denunciation if it implies political controversy, if any, if configured as pure aesthetic ecstasy: it cannot get stuck in the artery moral, it cannot cross over, disturb people’s quiet life, otherwise confirm the order of the world. But on the clearest sides of the notebooksSimone Weil writes lines that I demand action, conversion, not the conversation of pious spirits: “Accepting to be anonymous, to be human matter (Eucharist). Give up prestige, respect… Strip off the ornaments, endure nudity”.

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The point is all there: to classify, to coincide with a code, to stay in the drama of the time with a headline, to prostrate before the role reversal with a well-deflated definition. Eventually, Irene, judged as an “alien” by those who live this world of justice and virtue, is locked up in an asylum. She doesn’t object, she doesn’t rebel, tantrums don’t bandage her face; he has no intentions, he has no ambitions, he has nothing to prove, to say, to complain about. “Maybe she became a communist? Maybe he wants to join a monastery?” a doctor challenges her. But the woman is beyond judgment and difference, she does not allow herself to be subjugated by the political trap, by the religious stain, “It is precisely because I am nothing that I can embrace everything,” she says, silencing everyone, disqualifying and disturbing you. Assuming it’s channeled into a character, a card, a party, a cassock, the curiosity it is included; pure choice is incomprehensible, the abyss is terrifying.

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“She hides in the silence, lost in herself and others… She names the unnamable… Maybe she is really ‘crazy’ because she is lost in the other… To know her is to know nothing… There is nothing with ‘her’ to say or to do, ”writes Michel de Certeau in Mystical fable proverb of refusal, of abortion among abortions, of the humiliated among the ganglia of the monastery; of the need for an anonymous magnet destroyed to absorb and atone for the sins of all. So Irene does not want the protection of an idea, an ideology, an “order”: she falls into nothingness, into the zero of man, and smiles at it, because in incessant prayer, without praying, she is in a kind of inexplicable dance . It remains obedient to submission, like what is rejected, like a blob of vomit. But it is in humiliation, very pure, the victory.

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Goffredo Fofi, as for them reception of an illegitimate film, summed it up like this: “Perhaps it is the most beautiful film of Rossellini’s beautiful films, of his masterpieces, but definitely Europe ’51 it is certainly the most political film by this director, whose inspiration was later to be curtailed by some political cunning. It is a masterpiece that Italy of the time deserved, but that the critics and ideologues who dealt with its cinema did not deserve”.

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The title remains, the myth of which must be articulated. Europe carries within itself the ambiguous, the kidnapping, the rape, the monster. Seduced by Zeus in the form of a bull, raped by Zeus in the form of an eagle, “in a willow grove beside a spring”, Minos of Europa is born in Crete, the king who hatched the Labyrinth. The union of woman with the beast – the bull – the prophecy of the monster Minotaur and the encyclopedic story of frustrated loves, mutilations, human laws – represented by the palace/labyrinth are linked to the history of Europe. – who tames the chaos of the world, the two-faced savage, the multifaceted. Above all, a story in which the difference between cosmos and chaos, between harmony and disorder, between murderer and acquitted is indistinguishable.

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Finally, precisely because she is humble and certain of her collapse, Irene is abandoned in the psychiatric hospital by her parents – her husband who does not dare to kiss her, her mother in fur who does not dare to hug her. On the street, the priest comforts the cowardly family members while there is a procession of poor people geeks who shouts from the outside: “She is a saint!” and adorns the end of the film. From the bars of their cell, Irene or Ingrid Bergman seems to be the mother of all pains, the abnormal being that has no discipline, pity on fire that is barely whispered.

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