English Title: Allonsanfàn

Original Title: Allonsanfàn

Country of Origin: Italy

Studio: Una Cooperativa Cinematografica and Artificial Eye

Director: Vittorio Taviani, Paolo Taviani

Producer(s): Giuliano De Negri

Screenplay: Vittorio Taviani, Paolo Taviani

Cinematographer: Giuseppe Ruzzolini

Art Director: Giovanni Sbarra

Editor: Roberto Perpignani

Runtime: 111 minutes

Genre: Historical drama

Starring/Cast: Lea Massari, Marcello Mastroianni, Laura Betti, Claudio Cassinelli, Bruno Cirino

Year: 1974

Volume: Italian

Fulvio Imbriani is a Jacobin revolutionary of aristocratic origins and a member of the Sublime Brethren, a secret sect committed to armed insurrection. Fulvio has just been released from prison. After going back to his family, he becomes increasingly disillusioned about his political ideals and keen to take refuge in the warmth and comfort of his aristocratic life. After the death of Charlotte, Fulvio’s lover, the Brethren appear at her funeral and persuade Fulvio to join them again for an expedition to the south, where poverty and a major cholera epidemic have created good opportunities for a popular insurrection. Fulvio first tries to disappear with his son but, after being drugged, eventually finds himself in the ship sailing to the south. After disembarking, Fulvio will commit an act of betrayal which will have serious effects on the outcome of the insurrection.

Set in 1816 during the period of restoration that followed the Congress of Vienna (1815), Allonsanfàn is a film in which the Tavianis reflect on the meanings and challenges of revolutionary action in a climate of political frustration and despair. The immediate historical referent is the network of secret societies that carried out subversive actions to liberate Italy from foreign rulers until its final unification (1861). However, being made in the wake of 1968, the film seems to look at the past as a way of commenting on Italy’s present. Thus, the failure of the Brethren’s revolutionary activities may be seen as an allegory for the sense of failure of the extra-parliamentary groups of the Left after the historical compromise, the move by which the Communist party formed a moderate coalition government with the ruling centre-right-wing Christian Democrats.

A central concern of the film is the difficult relation between the individual and the collective in political action. This is a problem that is explored through the protagonist, Fulvio, and his dilemmas as he tries to break free from the Brethren and the high demands of revolutionary political commitment. Fulvio’s hesitations and his changing political consciousness are made explicit through a distinctive visual style. This is exemplified by the Tavianis’ insistence on vertiginous movements of the hand-held camera in the opening scenes and the use of different colour filters to mark Fulvio’s subjective views of his family and comrades and his remorseful visions. Despite portraying the protagonist’s political disillusion and increasing individualism in negative terms, the film gives a vivid sense of the difficulties that any revolutionary faces in being dedicated to a life that may be full of frustrations and sacrifices. Allonsanfàn offers an alternative to the isolation and despair faced by Fulvio in the solidarity and collective efforts of the Brethren. Fulvio’s comrades appear in the film as a unitary, compact collective body heroically fighting for a higher cause at the cost of sacrificing their lives. It is a sympathetic view which nevertheless does not hide a critique of the naivety and blind faith of the members of the Brethren. Despite this critical outlook, the film ends up being a joyful celebration of the utopianism embedded in any revolutionary project that aims at the creation of a fairer and more equal society. It is a utopian message that is conveyed through the character of Allonsanfan at the end of the film. Meeting Fulvio who has betrayed the Brethren by causing the massacre of many members, Allonsanfan constructs a fantasy in which he imagines his fellow revolutionaries and the Southern peasants embracing each other and dancing in communal solidarity.  The Tavianis seem to invoke here the optimism of willpower as an antidote to a more cynical perspective on the possibility of creating a more just society. 

Author of this review: Sergio Rigoletto