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  • RanchoTuVu1 April 2006
    Quite a film, combining lush photography with brilliantly realized scenes, one after another in fact, from the beginning arrival of the train to the ending, set on the waiting platform of the train station, with a story that weaves in and out of the present (1970) and past (1936) about fascism and the difficult and ambiguous forms the opposition took to combat it. Set in Italy's Po River valley in the town of Tara, it beautifully mixes the cinematic elements of plot, music, character, photography, etc... with a story about the well kept secret of how a man's father became a local hero in the struggle against fascism. Like any society caught in repression, the heroes we know today, who led the fight, maybe were forced by the circumstances of the times to take actions that could only be understood in the context in which they took place. Bertolucci does a great in dramatizing that inherent ambiguity that lies under the statue of the popular hero that is in the center of the town. There are some scenes that simply stand out, especially the outdoor dance (1936) where the hero and the fascists eye each other, and then he grabs the prettiest girl there and has all the dance floor while the camera goes from face to face. But in a film that is so well composed, this is but one of the highlights, none of which would mean much if the whole operation didn't have such an astute level of direction guiding it. For a film that relies so much on image, it says a lot, and doesn't squander any of its characters.
  • Made the same year as Bertolucci's better known 'The Conformist', this look at the legacy of fascism in a small Italian town certainly has many strong points. Beautifully shot, with some interesting plot twists, and subtly surreal touches it's always interesting.

    A son returns to a town where his father – an anti-fascist fighter in the years of Mussolini – was murdered by person(s) unknown, and has been made into a martyr and a hero by the locals. The son meets those who knew his father, and as he tries to discover the truth about what happened in the past, the reality gets more and more complex.

    A touch of the conventional thriller runs through this in a good way, keeping the story focused, even when the film-making techniques are a little more obscure or baroque.

    Only the slightly flat acting, which feels a bit phony and distancing, keep this from seeming more like a full-on masterpiece. It's as if Bertolucci wanted to engage only our heads, when nothing would have been lost by pulling in our hearts as well - something I think he succeeded with in "The Conformist"

    That said, given that many see this as Bertolucci's best film, I'll watch it again.
  • I found interesting to watch this movie since I noticed in it some characteristics that were to be strongly noticed in later films, such as the pleasure for the beauty of the composition (every image caught by the camera is very carefully thought before, considering all the elements in it, from a mirror to a chair, to a flower pot; and also studying its position, wheter the person speaking should be in the center or not, distances, etc.). Bertolucci has also put, I think so at least, a lot of time in this details (which marks a difference from other filming methodes such as those of, let's say, Godard, even though both are worth watching), which grant the film a great artistic quality, since it is very beautiful. I also see in this film the tendency for mixing stories in different times (remember the last emperor?).

    A part from this observations, this film has a story to be followed, not as intriguing or as fascinating as others... but still worthy to reflect on. Even though this is a political film, that's not even subtle or hidden, the main theme of this one is, in my point of view, the creation of myths, the creation of heros, idols... Fernando Pessoa, a portuguese poet, said that a myth is "a nothing which is everything". This film confirms it. Athos Magnani, the father, is an absolute nothing, despite his pseudo idealism, he made nothing in concrete except... becoming the hero of those people, except becoming one more reason for the fight. Even though he was admired for that, he wasn't particularly smart... just a bit more educated, and he just saw the chance of immortality... in his death. This is a myth, and myths, at least like this, only exist if people believe them.

    Beautiful landscapes, not spectacular acting (the actor who plays both athos Magnani is not exceptionaly convincing as the son but gives an interesting performance as the father). Also a good use of the non original music especially the excerpts from Il Rigolletto. I too enjoyed that the director resisted to the temptation of showing exactly the murdering; he did it in a better way. All this and a Bernardo Bertolucci starting to reveal all he would become.
  • After having searched high & low for this ridiculously hard to find film by Bernardo Bertolucci, I finally got a watchable VHS print recently (thanx, Scott). It has been praised by many a critic & film scholar, and deservedly so. Leonard Maltin may not know much, but he was right on the money when he said that this film contains some of the most staggeringly beautiful cinematography ever put on screen. If only somebody would get this on a proper DVD (Criterion, if you're not too busy considering another re-release of The Rock...). The story is, on the surface, a sort of 'search for the truth' mystery/quest that quickly turns into a complex examination of 'the nature of truth'. The pace is slow, and there isn't much in the way of action, mostly just dialog scenes and gorgeous location shots. But I for one was totally engrossed (my wife seemed to dig it as well). Speaking of pace, this struck me as being quite Tarkovsky-esquire a film (barring a few odd cutaway shots), especially with that last scene that puts the whole film into a different spin. Fascinating, heady stuff, but not for all tastes and will be rewarding more to those who are patient and attentive.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Athos Magnani visits Tara, the city in which his father, also named Athos, died murdered by the Fascists in 1936. Called by his father's lover, Draifa, Athos begins a search to find the man who killed the local hero. No one knows, but Draifa is sure he's a local person.

    So far the story seems pedestrian, but the script, loosely based on Jorge Luis Borge's short-story "Tema del traidor y del héroe", soon turns into an examination of truth, ethics and hero-worship. The pacing is slow and hardly thrilling, like many of the thrillers of this age, but intellectually riveting.

    Giulio Brogi plays father and son, even though it doesn't look like at first. As Athos senior he's a confident, defiant of the black shirts. As Athos junior, he's a confused man caught in a web of past events and lies, trying to make sense of his father's legacy.

    This is a great companion piece to Bernardo Bertolucci's other 1970 thriller, The Conformist. Although apparently opposites - one is about a Fascist, the other about a anti-Fascist - they both follow weak men who can't uphold their lofty political and moral ideals.

    Aiding Bertolucci is the great cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. His camera work is always a joy to watch, whether for the way it moves or for the way he captures vivid colors. And then if he weren't good enough, he draws inspiration from Giorgio de Chirico for the shots of the sombre Tara with its decrepit buildings and desolate squares.

    An interesting blend of plot and atmosphere, this is one of Bernardo Bertolucci's best movies, an obscure masterpiece of cinema.
  • This may be Bernardo Bertolucci's best film. It is certainly one of his most assured and technically accomplished. The complex narrative is an exposition of the ideological uses of history (both political history and personal history). A young man returns to his "martyred" Father's village to discover the exact reasons for his father's death at the hands of Facists. He also discovers more than he may want to know about his father's personal life - including intimate details from his father's mistress. The supposedly heroic life and death of his father is greatly complicated by the actual evidence and suggestive clues he discovers. The editing, cinematography, mise en scene, and acting in this film are breathtaking. Yet the film's triumph lie in the philosophical and political suggestions provoked by the narrative. This is a film worthy of myriad viewings.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    • Contains "spoilers", but no endings/killers are revealed...

    Bertolucci's masterpiece is based on Borges' "Theme of the Traitor and Hero", as well as other Borgesian theme which were ingeniously woven into the script. Besides transferring the story to Italy (another "oppressed and stubborn country"), the important character of the woman was added. This addition is another Borges theme -which does not appear directly in "Theme of the Traitor and Hero"- the Spider's Stratagem, the idea of a spider luring its prey from the center of its labyrinth/web. This recurring Borges image appears for example in "Ibn Hakkan al Bokhari, Dead in His Labyrinth". Also, Borges "recurring and predetermined history" theme is here enhanced by adding the father-son mixup (Giulio Brogi's double role).

    The blending of ideas from the great Borges with Italian history, Storaro's stupendous (and always narrative-effective) images, and great acting, produces, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest films ever.

    I strongly recommend going through (at least) the above mentioned stories ("Theme" is from Ficciones, "Ibn Hakkan" from The Aleph and Other Stories (Dutton), or in the original Spanish), and then watching this film on a good transfer (not pan-and-scanned color ruined video!).

    -too bad it is not released on DVD.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Almost like Rashomon, the protagonist must seek the truth about his father, the hero of the town. But everything is not what it appears and as he struggles to learn the truth he leans ambiguity, shades of gray and what history and later interpretations make of people.

    This is a brilliant film as it is executed superbly. It has the guiding intelligence of someone who is in full control of cinema. The personal aspects of that intelligence became more fully realized in his even better film The Conformist, surely one of the best adaptations ever done.

    The compositions and photography are of course famous but where this film stands out in terms of movies today is the editing and narration. Cutting between times is not always simple and this film does makes demands on the audience. Perhaps it was due to the budget, or perhaps they believed the audience was capable of keeping up with the story. Sure the hero is coded by his clothes so it's obvious who is who and when, but that code system does not always work instantly. This feature is marked in the scenes between the hero and his father's mistress, and as the same actor is playing both son and father at different times, instant confusion as to who is whom and why, is not quickly dispelled.
  • It's definitely true this movie is not just for everyone and you also really need to be in the mood for it to watch it. It's the more slower type of movie, that besides doesn't lay out everything for you. Sometimes you have to fill in the blanks and interpret certain sequences for yourself in order to keep following it and understand things.

    However when you really take the time to sit down for this movie, it's definitely more than worth it. It's a pretty fascinating watch, with a good concept and story in it.

    It's great to watch how the movie its 'mystery' slowly gets unraveled and the puzzle gets put together by the main character Athos Magnani, who returns to the town where his father got killed. Not only does he try to find out who killed his father but perhaps more importantly, also the reason why.

    It's great to watch the dynamics between him and the townsfolk. Some are helpful, others reluctant. It gives the movie a great atmosphere of tension and mystery as well. You never know who is telling the truth and what the motivations and reasons behind it all are.

    There are also some good twists in the movie, especially toward the end. The movie its ending does not disappoint!

    Deinetely worth checking out if this looks and sounds like your kind of thing!

  • La Strategia del ragno is a beautifully shot, superbly acted movie with a lot of twists. At fist glance the story depicts a man, Athos Jr, who has to solve the murder on his father, Athos Sr. This is asked of him by his father's mistress. Later it becomes clear that that story is the strategy of the mistress to get him to replace his father (the two are identical). The third story that runs through the movie is why Athos Sr was in fact killed. It seems he's a traitor, but it's my guess that he staged his own death from the beginning (including his treason), without his friends knowing. The only one who finds out the whole truth is Athos Jr. The way these stories are told and how they interact is magnificent. There's nothing in the movie that shouldn't be there. Don't try to understand my very short summary, just watch the movie. The Last Emperor is not Bertolucci's best, although I like that one, too. This movie should be in the top of the top 250.
  • Somehow I always thought this was Bertolucci's first film. It isn't. But it looks like it. Here's a director with a huge potential, a cinematographer who'll soon be one of the greatest, but they still have a long way to go. We were young and Bertolucci was very left-wing so it was de rigueur to find this great, but in fact it was boring. The plot meanders on, the acting is wooden, and in the end you don't know if there was a story there at all. Bertolucci has become an icon, maybe more because of the scandals adhering to his films than of the intrinsic worth of his cinematographic output (in contrast to for instance Ettore Scola). No scandalous scenes in this one though, just plain pretension and showing off.
  • Bertoluci's film is often abundantly gorgeous to look at but while that may be the case, it doesn't keep us interested enough in the protagonist's development or the plight of the film. His early films were often too 'artistic' to be taken seriously and his pretentiousness is quite evident here; he borrowed soundly from Godard and it shows with the excess wearisomeness. The plot concerns a young man named Athos Magnani who visits a small village in Italy where his father was reputedly an "anti-fascist freedom fighter" in 1936, but from the flash backs, he was a pompous jerk who really didn't do much anti-fascist work. In one scene of a dance in the village, Athos' father is smoking his cigarette in defiance of the fascist thugs who are giving him vicious looks. It all seems so silly and mundane, like a challenge that never surfaces. His father was 'supposedly' murdered by the fascists and in the present is considered a hero, with the whole bit of martyrdom being evident in the erected statue that bears a striking resemblance to Athos. So steps his son, in search of what his father was. The town does not want to return to the past, they have heroes today for a reason and they hesitate to unravel anything about that long ago era. Bertolucci manages to bore us while piecing useless confabulations from the people who knew his father including the mistress and three close chums, who are played by the old actors in the flashbacks, and thus Bertolucci plays with the contextual memory of the plot. Athos is a character who seems pained and thus reducing our sympathy of him to distaste and animosity. I wanted to grab him and slap him a few times, he was such a chump! Is Athos his father or did his father ever exist? What we have in the end is an erection of exorbitant delineations that don't really matter at all to us. Bertolucci could have made a wonderful film that rivals some of the great directors of the time but somewhere along the line everything didn't get aggregated like it should have, what we have instead is an egotistical exercise in excess that is only ideal to a half drowsy art student.
  • A young man named Athos Magnani (Giulio Brogi) arrives at the small Italian town of Tara. Magnani's aim is to discover who killed his father, a local hero and anti-fascist, decades earlier. The script makes many references to Mussolini, the Italian fascist leader of the 1930s.

    An essentially political film, "The Spider's Stratagem" contains deep themes related to personal identity, the definition of heroes, as well as perceptions of, and the truth about, others. Events and people are not always what they seem to be. The thematic depth is enhanced by competent cinematography, with some clever compositional camera shots.

    And yet, I found this film hard to like. There is an overall sense of gloom, with a drab landscape and bleak characters that seem more symbolic of ideas vis-à-vis real people with personal lives. Direction trends theatrical and stagy. And some plot elements seem either unnecessary or deliberately opaque.

    Acting also seems stagy and contrived, which may have been the director's intent. Alida Valli's performance is terrible. I dislike the way she smiles at the most inappropriate times. Further, the viewer must endure periodic outbursts of grand opera.

    I am thus ambivalent toward "The Spider's Stratagem". It has adequate thematic depth, for viewers wanting a thought-provoking film. But the slow-moving plot is something of a trial to sit through, with irksome characters and gloomy visuals. I found it not entertaining.

    Maybe a second viewing, when I have more time to digest the film's political themes, will render an impression that is not so alien and forbidding.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    For the most part, "The Spider's Stratagem" plays almost like a parody of the biases that some people have against "art films", by confirming most of their fears: it's infuriatingly slow, rambling (someone please tell that "culinary tester" to shut up!), diffuse, confusing (OK, everyone comments on how identical the protagonist looks to his father so it makes sense for one actor to play both roles, but many other actors play the same characters both in the present and over 30 years ago, with no attempt from the make-up department to de-age them), and weird for the sake of being weird (that lion head probably symbolizes something....but I don't know what it is). And yet, if you stick with this film, which is not the easiest thing to do, an interesting and thought-provoking theme emerges near the end: the chasm that separates reality from legend. The way the story turns out gets you wondering how many times things like that have happened in real life; we will probably never know, that's the whole point. ** out of 4.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die is a fantastic way of finding films that I would otherwise never had known about that could be great viewing, this Italian film is another one I hoped would deserve its placement, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci (The Conformist, 1900, Last Tango in Paris, The Last Emperor). Basically young researcher Athos Magnani (Giulio Brogi) returns to his ancestral home in Tara, at the request of his father's mistress Draifa (Alida Valli). His father, also named Athos Magnani (also Brogi), was killed before his birth, he is remembered as a resistance hero. Draifa, the statue in the square, and everyone in the town say he was killed by unknown fascists in 1936, Athos is met with evasion or hostility when he makes enquiries. Then three old acquaintances of his father tell Athos that his father attempted a failed plot to blow up Benito Mussolini in the town theatre, the assassin died after being betrayed to the police, but young Athos does not believe this tale either. Unsure whether to stay in this claustrophobic town where the truth is never told, Athos goes to the theatre, he is told that his father failed to go through with the bombing out of fear and tipped off the police himself. For this his associates killed him, with his agreement, and apparently a fortune teller had predicted his death days before. At a ceremony in front of his father's statue, Athos starts to tell this story, but despite knowing that his father became a hero through cowardice and betrayal, he decides that the town needs its myth. Athos goes to the railway station, where are announcements of increasingly trains, he looks ahead to see rusted and overgrown tracks, he finds himself tangled in the same web. Also starring Tino Scotti as Costa, Pippo Campanini as Gaibazzi, Franco Giovanelli as Rasori and Allen Midgett as Sailor. It is a simple, a young man who wants to gain more knowledge of his father's assassination, only for his legend to be shattered by the truth, it is a fascinating psychological journey, with great camerawork, locations and cultural references, a worthwhile drama. Good!
  • "Capitalizing on the auditory accompaniment from Verdi's RIGOLETTO and AIDA, THE SPIDER'S STRATAGEM sustains Bertolucci's usual orotund flourishes (Ligabue's paintings in the opening credits, a metaphorical gaze into a male lion) with beguiling long takes and precipitate editing choices. If it is far less trenchant and intricate than THE CONFORMIST, that may partially be ascribed the thin material on offer, also, not helped by Brogi, albeit a fine, good-looking actor inhabiting Athos with piss and vinegar, who makes for a less compelling protagonist for audience to contemplate and engage than Trintignant in his most expressive inscrutability."