THE FORBIDDEN CHRIST (Curzio Malaparte, 1950)

Stark, turbulent, poetic, Il Cristo proibito asks, “Why must the innocent always pay for the others?” In so doing it not only delivers a powerful blow to tyranny and the madness of war but also radically reinforces the tenets of Christian myth. The author of the script, filmmaker and composer of the score, Italian journalist, dramatist, novelist Curzio Malaparte—born Kurt Erich Suckert, but adopting early on a penname that, playing with Bonaparte, associated him with “a bad place”—had himself been a Fascist; but attacking both Mussolini and Hitler in the early 1930s, he was sent into exile. After the war, he became a Communist.
     Il Cristo proibito—originally released in the U.S. as Strange Deception—centers on Bruno Baldi, who has just returned to his impoverished village, Siena, in Tuscany, after being released from a Russian prisoner-of-war camp following the Second World War. Bruno is dead-set on discovering the identity of whoever betrayed his younger brother, Giulio, a partisan who was fifteen or sixteen when the occupying Germans killed him. But no one, including his caring mother, is willing to disclose the villager’s identity.
     This is a searing, heartrending film. Bruno’s friend Antonio arranges for a clandestine meeting between himself and Bruno; he “confesses” that it was he who betrayed Giulio. Upon hearing this, Bruno dispatches his knife into his dear friend’s heart. Dying, Antonio truly confesses. No, of course it was not he; but now when Bruno discovers the actual identity of the traitor he will no longer be motivated to kill the person. Antonio declares Bruno innocent and dies.
     Antonio, earlier: “Only in sacrifice is there Justice. . . . To suffer for others and to pay for others.”
     When Bruno confronts the traitor, his soul—and postwar Italy’s—hangs in the balance.

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