Sunday, January 24, 2010

Paolo Villaggio

I just finished watching Battleship Potemkin for the first (and last) time, and was irresistibly reminded of this super-famous scene from the 1976 movie Il Secondo Tragico Fantozzi. In it, first-rate comic actor Paolo Villaggio portrays his persona of an oppressed, submissive bookkeeper who finally, and briefly, rebels.

What causes him to finally blow up is that the company that has long made his life miserable mandates the viewing of the famous Russian propaganda film, because they find it morally and esthetically uplifting. Fantozzi does not. He gets up and in front of fellow employees (and management) yells: "La Corazzata Potemkin e' una cagata pazzesca!" (Battleship Potemkin is an incredible crock of shit!) This is followed by 92 minutes of applause by the captive audience (longer than the film itself). In a parody of the mutiny and uprising of the original, the oppressed workers set fire to the reels, tie up the managers, and force them to watch popular trash movies.

Like all really good comedy, there is a strong vein of truth in the scene. Going against decades of critical opinion of film critics is indeed liberating. But in real life (as opposed to Communist propaganda), the oppressed do not prevail. The scene concludes with the triumph of established order, as the cops come in and release the bosses. Who then force the failed rebels to repeatedly re-enact the Odessa Steps scene as a punishment. With Paolo Villaggio as the baby in the carriage. See it here.