Films of Roberto Rossellini:
- The Flowers of Saint Francis (Francesco Guillare di Dio) - Roberto Rossellini (1950)
“Hauser will be able to tell you quite precisely how I look and from where I am. To save Hauser the effort, I want to tell you myself from where I come _ _ . I come from _ _ _ the Bavarian border _ _ On the river _ _ _ _ _ I even want to tell you the name: M. L. Ö.”Nothing more was ever known about Hauser’s true origins or the identity of his assailant. Because of the strange circumstances surrounding Kaspar Hauser’s appearance and death, he attracted considerable public interest and has always been the subject of controversy. Some commentators speculated that he was somehow connected with a succession struggle in the House of Baden, a German noble family. Many others have accused Hauser of being a self-publicising fraud and habitual liar. These latter critics of Hauser claim that Hauser’s story of his entire upbringing taking place chained in a prison cell is not remotely credible and that noone could have survived very long under such conditions. These detractors even claim that Hauser even inflicted the publicized wounds on himself (the latter one, obviously, overdone) in order to further his notoriety.
“Herzog is known to despise and fear chickens, and they must represent something overwhelmingly repulsive to him. Their relentlessly spasmodic movements and their often fierce, mindless savagery conjure up a sense of meaningless animal brutality.”So it is emblematic of Herzog’s attitude towards these quizzical creatures that he depicts the gentle Hauser, who is shown to relate easily and intimately to other animals, immediately shrinking back in horror when confronted with the rooster.
“Wherever I look to the room – to the right, to the left, frontwards, backwards – there is only room. But when I look at the tower and turn around, the tower is gone! So the room is bigger than the tower!”This reminds us that while we viewers would envision his early confinement as terribly constrained and claustrophobic, to Hauser that small room was existentially the entire universe – nothing was beyond that cell. So the cell was vast, a complete world all by itself. Now, out of his confinement the world of the same "size", but different -- it is now infinitely more complicated and animated with hostile forces.
“A dog will repeatedly perform a trick without rewards, but refuse as soon as another dog gets pieces of sausage for the same trick. Recently, Sarah reported an unexpected twist to the inequity issue, however. While testing pairs of chimps, she found that also the one who gets the better deal occasionally refuses. It is as if they are satisfied only if both get the same. We seem to be getting close to a sense of fairness.” But despite these studies and our own intuitive convictions that empathy is real, there is still a problem – empathy is not really wired into our conventional social culture. That culture is still based almost exclusively on self-interests. Corporations and government organizations are instructed to evaluate the world on the basis of their own selfish interests, and moral behaviour is assumed to only arise on the basis of those long-term interests.
1. Justin and Tessa.
The opening scene shows Justin kissing his wife, Tessa, good-bye at the Nairobi airport, just prior to her departure with a companion, Dr. Arnold Bluhm, to the northern Kenyan city of Lokichogio. The next shots reveal that she has been murdered somewhere on the road, and Justin must go to the morgue to identify her body. The rest of this act is devoted to flashbacks about how Justin came to meet and fall in love with Tessa. She was a political science student and liberal activist who attended a guest lecture given by Justin. Their romance was rapid, as the self-confident Tessa readily welcomed Justin’s shy advances. Soon it was she who proposed that he marry her and take her back with him to his diplomatic assignment in Africa. Once there she soon partners with a black African doctor, Arnold Bluhm, in connection with her passion to improve the health and welfare of poverty-stricken natives. The close association of Bluhm with the liberal Tessa makes Justin feel uneasy, and he fears that the two may be intimate. In connection with Tessa’s work with Bluhm, she learned that a large, international drug corporation, KVH, was compelling poor natives seeking AIDS treatment to undergo testing of Dypraxa, an unproven tuberculosis (TB) drug with known, sometimes fatal, side effects. KVH and their local heatlhcare partners administering the tests, ThreeBees Corp., were covering up the deaths caused by the Dypraxa tests.
2. The Conspiracy Revealed.
We return the “present”, with Justin and his boss, British High Commissioner (i.e. Ambassador) Sandy Woodrow in the morgue. Because Arnold Bluhm is missing, it is assumed by the government that he was Tessa’s lover and brutal murderer. The grief-stricken Justin wants to know more about these murky circumstances and why their home was ransacked after her death, so he begins to investigate. Justin learns that Tessa had sent a report, via Sandy Woodrow, to Sir Bernard Pelligrin, head of the Africa desk of the British Foreign Service, revealing the conspiracy of KVH and ThreeBees and accusing them of blatant illegalities and wrongful deaths. Tessa had subsequently learned that her letter was suppressed by Pelligrin, and she had then conspired to get hold of Pelligrin’s abusive and self-incriminating letter dismissing her revelations. Justin now knows that the British government was in on the conspiracy in order to assist its corporate allies.
3. Justin on the Trail.
Justin is now determined to follow up on Tessa’s investigation. He returns to England, where his passport is confiscated, and he realizes that he is now seen as an enemy of the British Foreign Service. He acquires a fake passport so that he can continue his clandestine consultations with some of Tessa’s fellow social activists in Europe. And despite beatings and death threats from paid thugs, the mild-mannered diplomat’s resolve is firm. He learns about Tessa’s acquisition of Pelligrin’s self-damning letter, and also he learns both that Bluhm was not really Tessa’s secret lover, but only an innocent victim, and that Tessa’s ill-fated trip to Lokichogio was connected with her efforts to meet a developer of Dypraxa, Dr. Lorbeer. His sights are now set on finding Lorbeer back in Africa.
4. The End of the Road.
Returning to Africa, Justin accumulates more crucial evidence about the conspiracy, but learns from the cynical but sympathetic head of MI5 in Kenya, Tim Donohue, that the British government has taken a contract out on his life, just as it had done with Bluhm and Tessa. Justin doggedly goes ahead manages to track down the eccentric Lorbeer in Sudan, acquire from him the damning letter from Pelligrin, and get it dispatched back to allies in England where it can be revealed to the public. But he knows he cannot escape his tragic fate.
“The author also touches on real-life social concerns, such as the possible coercion of needy patients, the solicitation of favorable reports and testimonials by opinion leaders, and the ghostwriting of such testimonials by sponsoring pharmaceuticals firms themselves. The reader is also exposed to some of the realities of biomedical publishing, such as the difficulty of communicating negative data in premier medical journals, the potential for censorship of unpopular data by biased peer reviewers, and the use of confidentiality agreements that can prevent company employees and their associates from communicating research findings.”So the practices described in the film (presumably accurately following Le Carre’s text) are apparently standard with the pharmaceutical industry, and these are exclusively driven by the selfish interests of profit. Maybe we need something a little different for the healthcare field. In fact, maybe we need to consider how corporations, in general, could be restructured for the better, in order to go beyond their present selfish orthodoxy. This is the subject of the recent book by Dev Patnaik, Wired to Care, which argues that the corporations today lack empathy and that for them to be more effectively service-oriented, they will need to establish a more widely held sense of empathy for their customers.
. . .
“However, the practices attributed to KVH do not appear to be out of line with real-life pharmaceutical R&D activities. KVH met or exceeded the regulatory requirements for clinical safety and efficacy necessary to achieve market approval in three countries. It is not uncommon to adjust clinical protocols, as the fictional company appears to do, when adverse events are observed, in order to ensure safety. Similarly, pharma companies often seek the endorsement of key opinion leaders, as does KVH, as a way of encouraging the medical community to use a new drug. Finally, confidentiality agreements are standard practice in the pharmaceutical industry; they are designed to protect the huge financial investment that underlies drug development and to control disclosure of data about drugs that are still under development.”
1. The Happy Times Hut (22 minutes).Each of the two final messages basically asserts the same thing: that life can be beautiful if you don’t give up – and that authentic, sincere, and meaningful interactions with other people are ultimately possible and worth striving for, no matter that some of them may turn out sour. At the end of the film, what started out as a colloquial comedy has turned into a soulful and inspirational message of hope.
The film opens in lowbrow-comedy mode with Zhao, a fiftyish bachelor, trying for the 19th time to find a woman who will marry him. The object of his ardent pursuits on this occasion is an obese, twice-divorced lady whom he has found through a matchmaker. This woman (who is nameless and only referenced occasionally by Zhao’s mates as the “Chunky Momma”) has two children: a super-spoiled and equally obese teenage son, who is a repellent icon of China’s one-child policy, and a blind, eighteen-year-old step-daughter, Wu Ying, whom she treats abusively. It soon becomes evident that Zhao is a schemer who “talks out of both sides of his mouth” and is perpetually short of cash. One of the reasons for his financial straits is that he and his mates are all “retired”, i.e. part of China’s vast body of elderly workers who have been laid-off from uncompetitive state-own companies. Throughout the film the theme of misrepresentation to keep up appearances is presented on many levels. But underlying this theme is a distinction between literal truth and authenticity of feeling.
Although broke, Zhao promises his intended wife that he will fund a relatively posh 50,000-yuan wedding for her. This big-shot posturing presents his first (of many) problems: how is he going to come up with the cash for such a wedding? His friend and former workmate, Fu, helps out by coming up with a scheme to refurbish an abandoned bus in back of their old, shutdown factory and charge lovers searching for a private tryst location. The two schemers label their rendezvous site, the “Happy Times Hut”, and soon Zhao is boasting to Chunky Momma that he is a big-time hotel manager. Zhao’s problem looks like it may be solved.
2. Wu Ying’s 1st job. (22 minutes)
The Chunky Momma, eager to get her blind step-daughter, Wu Ying, out of her flat, insists that Zhao get her a job at his hotel and have her quartered there. This presents another problem for Zhao, and the narrative now shifts from primarily lowbrow comedy (LC) to incorporate Wu Ying’s existential plight (ES). Zhao agrees to the demand to give the girl some kind of make-work, and conducts a fake job interview, during which Wu Ying reveals her sad history of how she lost her sight and then her father. But when Zhao leads the girl to his “Happy Times Hut” bus for her first day on the job, he finds that the old abandoned bus has been removed as an eyesore by the landowner. His “business” is kaput. So now Zhao’s new, immediate problem, besides that of making money for the wedding, is how to find shelter for Wu Ying so that she doesn’t give away the truth about his phoney background.
3. Wu Ying’s 2nd job. (37 minutes)
Having learned that Wu Ying knows how to give massages, Zhao and Fu get permission to temporarily refashion their shutdown factory workshop with the tools that remain there. With the help of their other “retired” workmates, they erect a fake hotel massage parlor for Wu Ying to be the masseuse. The workmates then pretend to be hotel customers, and Wu Ying happily gives them all expert massages. By this point Zhao and his mates are so concerned about Wu Ying’s happiness that they seem to have forgotten about the original problem: the needed 50,000 yuan. With no money coming in, Zhao even hocks his old TV in order to buy Wu Ying a new dress for her “job”, and the “customers” have to use fake money even to give the customary tips to their masseuse.
But for the moment, the fantasy is intoxicating, and they all reinforce themselves with giddy optimism. While celebrating their supposedly booming massage business at a noodle shop, Wu Ying takes out a letter from her absent, beloved father that was written to the Chunky Momma and asks Zhao to read it to her. As Zhao reads it aloud and realizes that the letter only talks about the rascal father’s monetary failures, making no mention of Wu Ying, Zhao pauses and fibs that there is a hard-to-read postscript of the letter about Wu Ying that he will read to her later, when he has his glasses.
4. Parting ways (14 minutes)
On his next visit to the Chunky Momma, Zhao learns that he has been summarily dumped. The woman berates him for all his lies and admonishes him to “be honest and speak the truth”. He can only respond that though he did lie, his overall feelings for her were sincere. But she boots him from her premises, and the dejected Zhao is out on the street, consoling himself with alcohol. He borrows a pen at a canteen and adds some promised fake words about Wu Ying to her father’s letter, but a short while later he is run over by a truck.
At the end of the film, Fu and the other workmates go to the hospital and find Zhao in a coma, and then, when they return to Zhao’s apartment, they learn that Wu Ying has run away. So at the conclusion of the story both Wu Ying and Zhao face uncertain and dubious futures – we don’t know if Zhao will regain consciousness, and we don’t know how Wu Ying can survive wandering sightlessly in the streets. Yet despite these dire circumstances for the two protagonists, the film ends on a curiously uplifting note. Both Zhao and Wu Ying have left messages to each other which cannot be delivered to their intended recipients and are known only to Zhao’s workmates. Zhao’s message is the fake letter to Wu Ying, and Wu Ying’s message is a tape recording to Zhao that she left in Zhao’s apartment just before departing. Each message urges its recipient to believe in her or himself and always to have faith in a positive outcome, no matter what difficulties life may present to them.
“After an hour or so of chat as animated as my Italian will permit, I ask, ‘Well, what about Red Desert? Antonioni smiles broadly, makes a sweeping gesture, and announces with the self-satire of the confident, ‘Un film stupendo!’” 
“the color is so eloquent and thought-provoking that it emphasizes the vacuousness of what it envelops: plot, character, dialogue.” 
“the thinness of the subject matter . . . contrasts with the brilliance with which it is expressed to the eye. . . And the farther he goes in that direction [towards abstraction] without giving up the conventional kind of plot, as in his last two films, the more obtrusive is the discrepancy between the feebleness of what he has to say and the cinematic power with which he says it.” 
“It simplifies things too much (as many have done) to say that I accuse this inhuman, industrialized world in which the individual is crushed and led to neurosis. My intention, on the contrary, . . . was to translate the beauty of this world, in which even the factories can be beautiful.” 
“What confuses the whole doctrine about being in logic is that people do not notice that they are always operating with the ‘concept’ existence. But the concept existence is an ideality and the difficulty is, of course, whether existence can be reduced to a concept. . .Thus it was that by considering the concrete nature of existence, which he felt Hegelianism overlooked, Kierkegaard introduced the related idea of nothingness. This attack on Hegelianism was and is of considerable consequence simply because most of the established thought patterns of the present age are founded upon Hegel’s thought. In particular all the social sciences are rooted in Hegelian essentialism, and this is especially significant for an existential critic of essentialism like Kierkegaard, who would charge that it is precisely in the social sphere that the scientific method of essentialism is inadequate. In other words the scientific method applied to objects in the world may have its uses, but it does not render an accurate accounting of our experiences of objects nor of our experience of each other – each of which can only be adequately dealt with by a philosophy that considers existence as well as essence. The breakdown of classical philosophy has, say the existential critics, brought about a mass neurosis, causing people to be regarded as dehumanized conceptual quantities and leaving the individual with a feeling of homelessness and boredom. It is this malaise that Antonioni has dealt with in Red Desert, and the psychotic condition of Giuliana is an externalization of that which is implicitly present in a great number of troubled souls.
But Existence corresponds to the individual things, the individual, which even Aristotle teaches lies outside or least cannot be reduced to a concept. . . an individual man has not, after all, a conceptual existence.” 
I lean my hand on the seat, but pull it back hurriedly: it exists. This thing I’m sitting on, leaning my hand on, is called a seat. They made it purposely for people to sit on, they took leather, springs, and cloth, and they went to work with the idea of making a seat, and when they finished, that was what they had made. The had carried it here, into this car, and the car is now rolling and jolting with its rattling windows, carrying this red thing in its bosom. I murmur: “It’s a seat,” a little like an exorcism. But the word stays on my lips: it refuses to go and put itself on the thing. It stays what it is, with its red plush, thousands of little red paws in the air, all still, little dead paws. This enormous belly turned upward, bleeding, inflated – bloated with all its dead paws, this belly floating in this car, in this grey sky, is not a seat. It could just as well be a dead donkey tossed about in the great grey river, a river of floods; and I could be sitting on the donkey’s belly, my feet dangling in the clear water. Things are divorced from their names. They are there, grotesque, headstrong, gigantic, and it seems ridiculous to call them seats or say anything at all about them: I am in the midst of things, nameless things. Alone, without words, defenseless, they surround me, are beneath me, behind me, above me. . . . .[later] I’m in the park. I drop into a bench between great black tree-trunks, between the black, knotty hands reaching towards the sky. A tree scrapes at the earth under my feet with a black nail. I would so like to let myself go, forget myself, sleep. But I can’t, I’m suffocating: existence penetrates me everywhere, through the eyes, the nose, the mouth . . .And suddenly, suddenly, the veil is torn away, I have understood, I have seen.
. . .So I was in the park just now. The roots of the chestnut tree were sunk in the ground just under my bench. I couldn’t remember it was a root any more. The words had vanished and with them the significance of things, their methods of use, and the feeble points of reference which men have traced on their surface. I was sitting, stooping forward, head bowed, lone in front of this black, knotty mass, entirely beastly, which frightened me. Then I had this vision.It left me breathless. Never, until these last few days, had I understood the meaning of “existence.” . . when I believed I was thinking about it, I must believe that I was thinking nothing, my head was empty, or there was just one word in my head, the word, “to be”. Or else I was thinking . . . how can I explain it? I was thinking of belonging, I was telling myself that the sea belongs to the class of green objects, or that the green was a part of the quality of the sea. Even when I looked at things, I was miles from dreaming that they existed: they looked like scenery to me. . . . And then all of a sudden, there it was, clear as day: existence had suddenly unveiled itself. It had lost the harmless look of an abstract category: it was the very paste of things, this root was kneaded into existence. Or rather the root, the park gates, the bench, the sparse grass, all that had vanished: the diversity of things, their individuality, were only an appearance, a veneer. This veneer had melted, leaving soft, monstrous masses, all in disorder – naked, in a frightful, obscene nakedness.I kept myself from making the slightest movement, but I didn’t need to move in order to see, behind the trees, the blue columns and the lamp-posts of the bankstand and the Velleda in the midst of a mountain of laurel. All these objects . . . How can I explain? They inconvenience me: I would have liked them to exist less strongly, more dryly, in a more abstract way, with more reserve. The chestnut tree pressed itself against my eyes. Green rust covered it half-way up; the bark, black and swollen, looked like boiled leather . . .. . .In the way: it was the only relationship I could establish between these trees, these gates, these stones. In vain I tried to count the chestnut trees, to locate them by their relationship to the Velleda, to compare their height with the height of the plane trees: each of them escaped the relationship in which I tried to enclose it, isolated itself, and overflowed. Of these relations (which I insisted on maintaining in order to delay the crumbling of the human world, measures, quantities, and directions) – I felt myself to be the arbitrator; they no longer had their teeth into things. . . .. . .In vain to repeat: “this is a root” – it didn’t work any more. I saw clearly that you could not pass from its function as a root, as a breathing pump, to that, to this hard and compact skin of a sea lion, to this oily, callous, headstrong look. The function explained nothing: it allowed you to understand generally that it was a root, but not that one at all. This root, with its colour, shape, its congealed movement, was . . . below all explanation. . .. . .Suspicious: that’s what they were, the sounds, the smells, the tastes. When they ran quickly under your nose like startled hares and you didn’t pay too much attention, you might believe them to be simple and reassuring, you might believe that there was real blue in the world, real read, a real perfume of almonds or violets. But as soon as you held on to them for an instant, this feeling of comfort and security gave way to a deep uneasiness: colours, tastes, and smells were never real, never themselves and nothing but themselves. The simplest, most indefinable quality had too much content, in relation to itself, in its heart. . . . But no necessary being can explain existence: contingency is not a delusion, a probability which can be dissipated; it is the absolute, consequently, the perfect free gift. All is free, this park, this city, and myself. When you realize that, it turns your heart upside down and everything begins to float. . . .
. . .I was no longer in Bouville, I was nowhere, I was floating. I was not surprised, I new it was the World, the naked World suddenly revealing itself, and I choked with rage at this gross absurd being. . . I shouted, “filth! what rotten filth!”, and shook myself to get ride of this sticky filth, but it held fast, and there was so much, tons and tons of existence, endless: I stifled at the depths of this immense weariness. 
“It is a less realistic film, from a figurative point of view. That is to say, it is realistic in a different way. For example, I used the telescopic lens a great deal in order not to have a deep focus, which is for good reason an indispensable element of realism. What interests me now is to place the character in contact with things, for it is things, objects, and materials that have weight today.” 
“There is, in this film, no pictorial research at all; we are far from painting, it seems to me. . . . Moreover, I had never thought about color in itself. The film was born in colors, but I always thought, first of all, of the thing to be said – this is natural – and thus aided the expression by means of the color. I never thought: I’m going to put a blue next to a maroon.” 
“It’s a way of approaching the character in terms of things rather than by means of her life. Her life, basically interests me only relatively.” 
“The sea is never still. I can’t look at the sea for long and not lose interest in what happens on land.”
“You wonder what to look at, and I wonder where to live. It’s the same thing.”