Despite its reputation for being god-awful,* The Assassination of Trotsky is one of Joseph Losey’s moodiest, most powerful films. Trotsky’s assassin, Ramón Mercader, here rechristened Frank Jacson (Alain Delon, excellent), and not Trotsky, is the central character. Internet critic Fernando F. Croce has drawn the main contrast between Jacson and Trotsky, saying that Jacson is “as confused in his identity as his redoubtable prey is embalmed in his.” Early on, on the sidewalk of the Mexico City street as the May Day parade passes by, Jacson turns his back to the procession, facing a wall, to light a cigarette. Symbolically, that blank wall measures up as two things: Jacson’s cluelessness as to who he is; the monolithic, fixed nature of Trotsky’s self-certainty. “Who are you?” a policeman asks after Jacson has ripped open Trotsky’s head with a pick-ax. He has found his historical, fabled identity: “I killed Trotsky.”
Jacson is a mercenary who is racked by ambivalence as he sets up and approaches the kill. He doesn’t know what he wants to do. The man who has hired him tells him more than once that he is free, that he can walk away without assassinating Trotsky; but three women, unwittingly, bind him to the darker choice. Gita, the idealistic Communist he has made his lover for access to Trotsky’s barricaded Coyoacán villa, where she works; how else to hide the shame of his having thus used her but to complete the job? “I’ve seen your mother,” the hirer casually mentions; “She’s well”—a veiled threat. And Natalia (Natasha here; Valentina Cortese, marvelous), Trotsky’s wife, remarks that Jacson is the same age as their son who was assassinated in Paris.
Jacson must not be him.
Nicholas Mosley and Franco Solinas are the principal writers.
* Andrew Sarris, though, named this one of 1972’s ten best films.
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