On July 6th, 2020 morning, I woke up at 5.21 am, almost three hours before my usual awakening. There was no reason for that, I thought at the moment. We still have a white nights at this time in Finland, so the sun was up for an hour or so. The air was completely clear, but without that special morning serenity. I heard noisy and persistent rustling of branches all around our house, non-stop rustling. The wind was mighty, the weather was stormy. Strange morning, I thought, not quite July-like. I felt like the wind was as if saying something. Not trying to say, but saying in articulated way. I could not sleep back at all.
Some music was still whirling in my head from the previous night when my husband and I were listening to our usual pre-bed concert. Yesterday, we opted for the record of a great concert given back in 2006 by two outstanding Italian musicians, trumpet player Paolo Fresu and pianist Danilo Rea at Auditorium di Santa Cecilia in Rome. Fresu and Rea were improvising playing some of our favourite music by great Ennio Morricone, a very special person for us both.
We started to speak about Maestro Ennio, how is he doing, hopefully now everything is fine, after our all’ fears for him and his wife because of severe epidemic of Covid-19 in Italy recently, how much we are waiting for his book sent to us by his family, what a great music that great man have created, and so on. Our evening of July 5th 2020 was ending with our thoughts on Ennio Morricone.
In a couple of hours after my unusual awakening next morning, my Inbox did show the terrible news: Maestro Morricone passed away this morning, at the dawn in Rome ( 5.42 am), at hospital there. The same time when I awoke that morning, under noisy rustlings of the trees in our garden.
Just four months ago, in mid-February 2020, we were seeing Maestro’s son Marco, the one of his four children, and his wife Monica in Rome where we all were participating together at the Il Volo di Pegaso Italian National Arts, Literature and Music Award ceremony in which the Maestro Morricone’s Armonica Onlus Academy was taking a prominent part, and our The Rogatchi Foundation is traditionally participating as well. When Marco Morricone was invited to the stage to speak before awarding some of the laureates, we were stunned by his goodness, his modesty and his sensitivity. We should not be stunned, actually: Marco is so much the son of his great father in that great modesty, that rare and organic attitude towards people, that fineness of sublime soul.
Sea of Light
I saw Maestro Morricone in person for the first time in the end of August of 2009 in Rimini, during the important Meeting di Rimini high-end cultural and humanitarian festival. Maestro was giving a special concert in an unusual concert-conversation format. I was invited as a special guest, as well as another dear friend, the great public figure, late Harry Wu. We all were staying at the same historical Rimini Grand Hotel, famous largely thanks to Fellini who had a special bond to the place, who immortalised it in his films and who actually died there.
Both Maestro Morricone and his wife were gracious, elegant, organically polite and friendly disposed toward people they were meeting at Rimini Festival, but not only. To talk with them, to be near them was like one was entering the sea of light. Very calm, serene sea which is organically generous with you – and you, and you, everyone – in sharing its light, in wrapping it around you absolutely effortlessly.
Luckily, I have met many special people in my life. And many very special ones among them. But I never met anyone quite like Ennio Morricone. That man had such extraordinary substance which he consciously and very graciously kept very much inside himself that his presence was a quiet but very deep celebration and a gift. Never in my life did I have that sensation when a brief friendly encounter lasts over many years and is present in one’s life in a sustaining and tangible way as if it had happened just yesterday.
I remember the Maestro’s face, his smile, his attentive eyes, very sharp eyes but without any edge in his outlook, his wise and elegant words very vividly during all twelve years that have passed since our personal meeting. I cannot explain it, but it is with me on a daily basis. I treat it as a very special personal gift in my life. I always will.
As a culture figure, Ennio Morricone was a gift to mankind: his enormous productivity and fortunately long life ensured his music to over 500 films, many of them mile-stones of cinematography, and much more great music by that brilliant composer. I do not know any other cultural figure whose impact was so mighty, unexpected, wide and universal. Not only Morricone’s music is great, but to very large extent, it did made the films for which he was composing, unforgettable and distinct ones, from all eight classical Westerns by Sergio Leone to Once Upon the Time in America, Sicilian Clan, Cinema Paradiso, and so many others.
Morricone’s scores for all those exceptional films always was much more than a score, even the best one. It was a vision laid not in words, not in pictures, but in music, in melodies. Because of philosophical depth and the beauty of Morricone’s music, this vision has been perceived universally, by millions. Because of its pure harmony and depth, that vision has enriched our individual perception of the world and it has enriched our own lives. Morricone’s music is an unique phenomenon in the history of culture, and palpably so in modern cultural history. This music is more than words. It is deeper than words. And it stays longer than images on the screen although they all are engraved in our memory very much because and thanks to that so unique, so special and so original music.
Ennio Morricone was a gift to mankind.
Not only was his productivity simply phenomenal, but his artistic responsibility was exemplary one. Maestro Morricone started to conduct his own music quite late, in the mid-1980s when he was 56 year old. His concerts were always a great success. During those concerts, the sea of light that he did emanate was transformed into the ocean of it. The waves of goodness were embarrassing Morricone’s huge audiences at every concert he ever gave, and those were many in major places and different corners of the world. He was very generous towards the people in anything he did. It was his principle of life conduct. Amazingly, he gave fantastic concerts conducting brilliantly as recently, as just two years ago, in 2018, being 89.
True Renaissance Man
In the best of Italian modes, Maestro Morricone was a true Renaissance man. Additionally to his inherited and developed musical supreme talent, he had a brilliant mind and great intellect. After learning about Morricone in more detail, I realised why his music is so unique and so universal. It is because it was also a product of his might intellect and outcome of his deep spirituality.
Maestro Morricone was an exceedingly modest person, he never bragged on his brilliance and depth. But it all is in his book, Ennio Morricone: In His Own Words, which is a sheer intellectual pleasure to read. It is the one of the best books ever.
When I was reading the parts of it, I was having an impression that Leonardo had returned to our midst, this time as a composer. “Music is mysterious, – wrote Maestro in his incredibly engaging book, – it does not offer many answers”. Indeed, Ennio Morricone’s music did originate much more lasting questions for millions of people than all those great films itself. And questions are the salt and beauty of a life landscape, the more, the better.
As a person, Maestro Morricone was simply amazing in his modesty, his friendliness, his kind attitude towards the people. I wish we would have much more people like him, but the reality is that he was a rare sapphire of a man.
His deep faith was never shaken and for those who knew him and the family, it was evident that this kind of faith was a very firm ground for his outstanding and far reaching humanity.
His and his family’s generosity and philanthropy maybe not that well-known widely – precisely because of supreme modesty of Morricones – but there was, is and will be steady stream of it in many directions of life, including their help to children, families in need, musical education, science, medicine, you name it.
When we at our The Rogatchi Foundation have started the Culture for Humanity global initiative facilitating cultural support to people world-wide at the smashing time of Covid-19 pandemic, it was Maestro Morricone and his wonderful family who did respond the first ones to join and to lead the effort. We were touched and grateful to those wonderful people who always share their talent and their heart with this simplicity and understatement, in the way the real giants do.
As we all know, because of a number of reasons, some of great masters of arts can be quite complicated characters. Ennio Morricone, additionally to all his extraordinary professional qualities, was simply a wonderful man. True humanitarian whose humanism was an organic part of his nature. He is a giant in all and every sense.
It would take time for me to write about Maestro Ennio in the past term. Such light like his never dims.
Addio, Maestro, e senza fondo grazie, bottomless thank you.
It is all about us. How do we react to events, and what makes our indignation to flare out. What qualifies an incident of any kind as a public scandal – for us, both individually and collectively.
In my view, what could be called as Case Portman has underlined our own perception, our own criteria with which we are measuring life much more than it bears a valuable content in itself. It also, inevitably, evokes some questions about the criteria for the prize dubbed as ‘Jewish Nobel’.
In the Case Portman, a grossly overrated actress had been behaving coldly and calculatively, as a small trade-union boss in Ireland a century ago, in order to make a stir, to serve her political objectives and aspirations of a public figure which – she dreams – she is. And the entire country loses its sleep over it. And the Diaspora is still agitated days on.
The Case Portman did not reveal us absolutely nothing new about the person who was chosen to be awarded. Her policies are well-known, the same as her behaviour. There was an obvious misjudgement in the selecting process for the Genesis Prize 2018, and this is the most mattering thing in the whole brawl, in my opinion.
Genesis Prize has a structure which is difficult to operate by definition. When private money meets with governmental structures, one has to navigate so much that the risk of losing the direction is real and high. It is well-known side-effect of such alliances in an applied philanthropy.
But there is a golden, I would say even stern rule, in philanthropy: you are not going to politicise it. Once it is done, the sense of it is gone and the cause is lost. I am daring to say it out of more than 30 years of experience of international charitable activities, most of them being connected with culture. In the case of Genesis Prize, one has an impression that it has been politicised, in the way of an emphatic appeasement. But why? And what for?
Among the five winners of the Genesis Prize, so far, from 2014 onward, only maestro Itzhak Perlman was an impeccable choice. With stated by the Genesis Prize Foundation core-line of their criteria for the Prize winners, I am at loss not to find among them the people who were and are the best among the Jewish Nation, devoted, talented and humble – such as the late Leonard Cohen ( who was among us yet for two or even three first Genesis Prizes), or Elie Wiesel – even so that he was among the members of the Founding Prizing Committee. For the figures like Wiesel who exemplified the best in our nation, it certainly should not be an obstacle. And there is always an opportunity for a Life Achievement Award, as it had been done in the awkward case in a scheme to escape a major embarrassment over re-directing the prize from Judge Ginsburg to Portman.
I wonder: had the list of the Jewish Nobel laureates of our times got shortened to disappearance, all of the sudden? Many of those people are not only brilliant scientists leading the mankind to its heights, but are great educators whose influence is global. What about unparalleled, the best in the world, in every corresponding country, great Jewish doctors, or their medical teams? Many of them are saving lives round o’clock under most daring circumstances. They are the great samples of Jewish values and humanism – in real life, not in its false-to-the-bone Hollywood productions of a virtual exercise of nothing.
What about great Jewish musicians for whom the Award for Excellence could easily be organised only in this very category, musicians and composers?
Ms Portman has tried hard to send a poisonous message to the Jewish world: one cannot be, not supposed to be a good Jew and to love Israel wholeheartedly. One has to be pussy-hatted hater, be arrogant and ignorant, to be worthy of ‘the Jewish Nobel’ with a couple of million price-tag on it. Well, she has to be disappointed, for the change.
Look on Maestro Evgeny Kissin. Supremely talented, unboundedly devoted, always with his people, despite all the comforts of his deservingly star-status life, he did ask for the Israeli citizenship himself, and he regards as a reward itself. I know about it first-hand. The globe-trotting the one of the very best pianists on the planet, Kissin has decided that while he is travelling, he would like to do it as the citizen of Israel, and will represent his country anywhere he goes with his smashing, unbelievable concerts, each of them being the product of hardest labour possible.
When we were in Israel at the time of another series of vicious terrorist attacks, after reading my articles from Jerusalem, Kissin wrote me back: “Don’t get surprised, but I almost envy you. At this very moment, you are at the place, you are in the midst of our people”. I love my friend for that, and if I would be set to remember just one phrase said by this musical super-star of our times, it would be that one. And everything what is behind it.
There is Philip Glass, great composer; there is Gideon Kremer who did enormously much as for the modern music, as for the state of mind of people world-wide, the same as Glass did and does. There are great people who had restored the Holocaust violins and who are playing Hatikvah on them, in unparalleled manifestation of love to the Israel people and nation.
There is Mark Knopfler, as well as Simon and Garfunkel – whose all’ contributions into the Jewish and cultural legacy in general is indisputable and ever-lasting.
There is an American living over forty years in Israel, Yoram Raanan, talented, devoted, humble, loving son of our people, true artists in its best way. Yoram Raanan loves his people, our history, he understands it and brings it out to the world. Anish Kapoor, another strange winner of the Genesis, loves himself, and his art is cold, imposing, and have nothing to do whatsoever with Jewish values. Commercial success had never being the indication of artistic quality – every student of art history is aware with it. If van Gogh just happened to be Jewish and live today, he had no chance to qualify for the Genesis nomination, he was far less famous during his life-time than Mr Kapoor during his.
And if talking about Hollywood, if it is so strangely addictive, there is Mayim Bialik, with her unwavering support of the state; there is Adrien Brody – at least, he was honest to the bottom of his heart to playing the Pianist for us and to leave it as a great part of the Jewish world’s legacy. There is also Harvey Keitel who additionally to be a really great actor is an exemplary son of the Jewish people and modestly, deeply devoted man to the Land and the Country.
Great director Peter Bogdanovich is there. Mighty Rade Mihaileinu, too. Steven Spielberg who quite possibly was born to make the Schindler’s List – and set up the vital archive of the survivors’ testimonies for the posterity – had also contributed into the world’s perception of the Jewish legacy thousand times more than a mediocre actress with a giant ego who is known primarily for her arrogance and hostilities.
Ms Portman was just good in just one role of hers, in the Goya’s Ghosts – entirely due to the mastership of great Milos Forman who directed the film. Apart of it, all her works are standard Hollywood productions, including Black Swan despite of her Oscar for that role. We are witnessing wrong and very wrong Oscar decisions so very often. The glamour and glitz does not automatically mean substance. In this very case, it certainly does not. Good agent does not make a good actor. Good director does.
There are Jewish historians of a global importance – such as 85-year old Saul Friedlander who did contribute into the understanding the history in a world-scale, and whose legacy will last for ever.
You might be surprised to hear that, but there are even great Jewish philosophers – and yes, imagine, Rabbis – who are the giants of spirit for generations, world-wide. Rabbi Lord Sacks is a great example of a multi-talented, wise, deep and harmonius Jewish person who did change lives of millions. Rabbi Yitzak Ginzburg is an unparalleled Rabbi who teaches not only code of behaviour and faith, but does it at the highest academic level brightening peaks of high science and bringing the light to millions, too. Rabbi Berel Wein has educated millions people world-wide on the Jewish values and Jewish way of life in a giant and brilliant contribution to the humanity in general.
Why not to look up to the heights of the human spirit, human qualities and human deeds while looking for a laureate of ‘the Jewish Nobel”? Why it has to be a Hollywood-sprayed celebrity with no other qualities except that one?..
Thanks Heaven, for the nation which constitutes 0,12 % of the world’s population, a very special, talented and bright nation, indeed, there are so many worthy candidates for the Prize which embodies – going through the Genesis Prize own statement – “excellence”, “international renown” , ‘inspiring others’. There are so many brilliant Jewish people worldwide who are “engaged and dedicated to the Jewish community and to the State of Israel”. “And” – and not “or” – as one can read in the truly weird statement, the main principle for the awarding the prize by the Genesis Foundation:
“The Genesis Prize honors individuals who have attained excellence and international renown in their chosen professional fields, and who inspire others through their engagement and dedication to the Jewish community and/or the State of Israel”.
I honestly cannot get it: why it should be /or regarding their dedication to the State of Israel in the main principle of selecting the candidates for ‘the Jewish Nobel”? This duplicity is disturbing, and such attitude is exactly what has paved the way to the loud international PR disaster over selecting such personality as Portman to be the winner for 2018 Prize.
But apart of any given scandal, or any given prize, how on earth is it possible that the organisation in which structures the top Israeli governmental officials and highest Israeli public figures are present, can allow itself to declare the policy which keeps the dedication to the State of Israel as optional for the prize which is dubbed as ‘Jewish Nobel’? Why to bother to have it in the first place, under such conditions?
With an exception of Maestro Perlman, the Genesis Prize, so far, had been a glitzy thing; more conduit to vanity and certainly ‘safe’ solution in the terms of political correctness than a stimulus to develop and carry on the blossoming legacy of our talented nation – as, I am sure, the initial intention of the Genesis founders and supporters had been. Something went wrong on some stage, and it would be healthy to have a closer look into that, I believe.
It is quite understandable that both officials and public in Israel and Jewish Diaspora had been reacting to the calculated rebuke by Ms Portman to the Genesis Prize powerfully. But I am still surprised that the reaction had been so wide-spread and that the degree of engagement of people on this issue went so high. So, an arrogant person who is not Sarah Bernard, and not even Meryl Streep although trying very hard to walk in Meryl’s shoes, had rebuked the ceremony while, characteristically for pussy-hatters, keeping the money. Why everybody had been so stirred up by such predictable behaviour? The reaction does tell not about Ms Portman, it does tell about us.
In 2015 when Ms Portman in her ever arrogant way of conduct decided to teach the entire Jewish people that we ‘have to stop to talk about Holocaust’, I have made a public comment on it in Jerusalem, during the special commemorative series of my The Lessons of Survival film on Simon Wiesenthal. A well-known Israeli and international cinema personality Ruth Diskin who was conducting Q&A session with me, had brought the issue onward. My comment was very short one. I said that ‘despite Ms Portman graduated from Harvard and likes to brag about it, it seems to be the clear, if not clinical, case of ignorance. Perhaps, she has to study the subject before coming out with her comments on it, made in its irritating categorical tone of an ever playing diva. One does not play on Holocaust. It is tasteless, at very least. One does not preach on when it would be ‘enough’ for people in Israel to remember. It is pathetic”. The entire hall of the Jerusalem Cinemateque was united in huge applauses. That was a healthy reaction to unhealthy behaviour of Ms Portman and her weird preaching out.
And actually, in all her efforts, done with such vigour, and trying so hard, she is utterly pathetic. Why to put such attention to her snub, and anything she does?
In this connection, there had been another event unfolding at the very same time with the Genesis Prize PR flop. The event just incredible in its perversion and its blatant hurt the Jewish feelings, on purpose. But on this event, we have had only one small and matter-of- fact JTA report which had been dutifully re-printed by all Jewish media, without any further reaction, or action on that by the public.
It had happened in Germany, in the Theatre of Konstanz, a university city on the border with Switzerland, not any former DDR place. That theatre had a first evening of a compilation of Georg Tabori’s plays. Conveniently in the producers’ understanding, the first night had been set for April 20th, the fuhrer’s birthday.
It does not matter that the play had been performed in the way, with overwhelming violence, which made the first people to start to leave the hall of the over-packed theatre after the first 30 seconds, according to the German media, and since then, people were storming out of the hall non-stop. It does not matter that the Tabori’s plays had been transformed beyond recognition, with adding Trump and Theresa May to Hitler – this low-brow approach is in fashion currently. Who cares.
What mattered is that on the eve of the first night, the theatre made the announcement and the appeal to the public. They announced that during the performance, the audience would be divided into two groups: Jews and the Nazis. The audience, not actors. The Nazi group will be given the Nazi arm-bands, and “the Jews” among the audience would be given yellow stars to pin it on their clothes. And those in the audience who would be willing to be “the Nazis”, would be provided with free seats.
There is ongoing and accelerating industry of hijacking Holocaust and perverting it, there are escalating efforts of mocking the Shoah, as we all know. But this invention really has beat up many of the sort. To think this way, to be able to invent such approach – which is after mighty uproar all over Germany has been called to be ‘a marketing idea’ – one has to be real, serious pervert. A Nazi, to put it simply.
And this is not somebody ‘one’. Konstanz is a substantial city housing a big university, those are educated people. There is a team working at the theatre. Well, we know that Eichmann loved to play on his violin, and did love to be called ‘maestro’ by his colleagues and friends, don’t we?
Some facts about the team behind the idea: director Serdar Somuncu, a Turk born in Istanbul, and coming to Europe in his twenties some 30 years ago, is known in Germany as ‘a hardcore comedian who likes to outrage the public by his radical insults”, according to the German media. Well, the public has to be liked to be insulted, to keep such director afloat, aren’t they? The main popularity that ‘comedian’ who likes to call himself ‘a politician’ has earned by scenic reading of Mein Kampf. He started this entertainment back in mid-1990s and was touring Germany with the Hitler’s monologues for years, despite the Mein Kampf had been banned in Germany. But this is art, you know.
His other program had been another scenic reading of the infamous Goebbels stadium speech of 1943, this time in early 2000s. He went to such invention as to read Mein Kampf in front of the former inmates of Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen – who in his sober mind can ever allow such sacrilege? But this is – yes, a freedom of artistic expression, German style. And now again, the interior ministry of Germany is examining on whatever the provocation in Konstanz was an illegal act – as Nazi symbols are still banned in Germany for public display – or was it an act of artistic expression, seemingly specifically allocated in Germany for cheap and low monstrous freaks like Somuncu.
The director of the Konstanz theatre is the man who is known relatively well in the culture circles across Germany. Christopher Nix in his previous life was an active defence lawyer specialising on the cases falling under the criminal laws demanding capital punishment. Then he discovered that he liked to play clowns, to start with, and thus his theatrical career has started. His career of theatrical administrator had been remarked by non-top scandals and expulsions from one place to another. Now he found his soul-mate in the Hitler and Goebbels’ ‘scenic reader’, ‘a comedian’ who jokes publicly in pure Nazi style.
The Case Konstantz has both crossed the line and did show the state of mind of people who are running the theatre and cultural projects in the educated, well-to-do place, 80 years after the applied Nazism has started to divide the citizens of that big country into those who were compulsed to wear the yellow stars and those who had got a free seats everywhere, regularly.
The case had been looked into now by the German federal ministry of interior, justly so.
But what about us? Why did we swallow this screaming case with such lenience? It had been virtually passed away without any normally would-be expected reaction, or action.
This is really worrisome, to me. The under-seeing, under-reacting to the episode which implies inhuman perception of Holocaust and sick treatment of all Holocaust victims today, which openly and in typically German way brutally insults us all, the Jews, and does it with a sick pleasure and on purpose, – and over-seeing, over-reacting to yes, utter misbehaviour of a Hollywood arrogant woman who did nothing in her life expect projecting her arrogant ignorance. This imbalance bothers me.
It is all about us. How we react, what we are interested about, what catches our attention, and what makes us to worry. It is about what insults us and what does not; what attracts and keeps our attention, and what fails it. It is about us, our values and priorities.
In a few days, the healthy majority of the Israeli public and Diaspora Jewry would forget about Ms Portman for good, however hard she would try to remind us about herself. But I would ever remember the idea of the modern German theatre people who, 80 years on after Holocaust, has decided to charm their public with a free seats for those who would volunteer to play the Nazis, against those who would be mandatory made to wear the yellow star for the paid tickets in that sick, pervert, Nazi macabre in theatre of Konstantz on the Hitler’s 128th birthday.
This is what matters. Dignity, decency and the real defence of the Jewish memory, and Jewish values, in the cases when it has been violated so cynically, not an arrogant self-promotion of another mediocre actress.
Fear, Love, Despair drama at the stage of the MDT-Theatre of Europe
The SCREAM OF SILENCE. Closer Look on the Anatomy of Nazism by Lev DODIN and his theatre. Fear, Love, Despair at the stage of the MDT-Theatre of Europe
By Dr Inna Rogatchi (C)
Lev Dodin is indisputably the best theatrical director in Russia, and the one of the very best ones in the world. He is a rare director who does not know how to do a bad theatre.
My husband Michael and I know Lev for 35 years, and I was lucky to work with him at the decisive period of the Maly Drama theatre in St Petersburg when Dodin had become its leader in early 1980s. Today the theatre is known all around the world as a star MDT- Theatre of Europe and is celebrated for deep, intellectually charged, emotionally dizzy powerful creations.
Because of the background mentioned above, I should not be surprised by a next work of the great director and the man I know well. But I am. I am completely taken by the degree of emotional experience it creates. I do not remember experiencing anything close to that, neither do I remember seeing such reaction from an audience at any theatrical performance ever.
What’s more, once again in his life, Dodin has made an open statement, this time – against fascism and Nazism. He did it at the time when the theme does not bear purely academic interest any longer.
For his new theatrical mile-stone, Lev Dodin opted for the material which could be easily regarded as the one belonging to the last century, unless the director decided to act this time also as the author of a new play based on the two classics of Bertolt Brecht, writing his own composition in which the Brecht’s Fear and Despair of the Third Reich and Refugees Talks are skilfully amalgamed into a new drama.
The director uses classic modern stage-design by his permanent colleague Alexander Borovsky, the son of the legendary theatrical designer David Borovsky.
Dodin starts to speak with the audience, powerfully and intimately at the same time, yet before actors will appear on the stage. We are seeing the set of the performance accompanied by sound of rain for such long time that the set itself as if starts to ‘talk’ to us. Glass is the must element on anything reflecting the Germany of 1930s, of course, as all the glasses will be broken there and then. But on the stage before us, it is not the time for this, as yet. The windows at this weinstube, a typical German tavern, are cracked in a few places, but in general, there are a couple of years before the Kristallnacht yet.
Black floors and wood around, iron chairs; minimum of light and warmth which will become utterly missed quite soon. The rain does not stop for a second. You are forced to get into this atmosphere because nothing else does not happening on the stage for quite a long time. You start to feel how uncomfortable it is here, in that blackened reality with its cracked windows around, and that un-stoppable rain. Total fear does not command this reality as yet, but growing anxiety is the air. The unsettling anxiety gets under your skin, as rain drops behind one trench’s collar.
Dodin opens up to us a panorama of the pre-war Germany, and he creates for his audience not a museum exhibit, but graphic and vivid sketch full of nuances, ironic and untrivial. People sitting in the Russian theatre are experiencing strong intellectual double-effect hearing practically any phrase coming from a stage. It is amazing how much does Brecht’s text resonates not only with well-known moments of the past, but also with unfolding realities of the life and views of many people in modern-day Russia.
In my perception, the two most powerful features of this rare theatrical work are its moral historian focus, and its Jewish theme.
As an old colleague and friend of Lev Dodin, I know how seriously he takes the education of his actors. The lucky ones who had become his students are receiving such a luggage of knowledge and intellectual attitude additionally to their professional qualities that it makes them a league of their own among the top qualified actors, both in Russia and elsewhere. They have one quality which makes them different: they like to think. And they read a lot.
In order to analyse the anatomy of the Nazism, Lev Dodin decided to add an extra-dimension to the Brecht dramaturgy. Practically all the actors on the stage of this performance are recreating specific archetypes which had been essential for the Hitlerised Germany: baffled police professional who is realising that hisprofessionalism is the last thing that the new dragon of power is expecting from him and who is shrinking both in his personality and his profession; and we know what kind of work this kind of men did perform in just a couple of years ( Investigator played by Vladimir Seleznev); the old-generation’ judge who obviously is looking and feeling as if a Martian landed on Earth, except that land and Mars as it happened, were his own country in which he simply has become a waste ( Judge played by Igor Ivanov); new generation of the Nazi juridical apparatus who were nothing but sheer loyalty to anything as long as it is power-bind, the more brutal, the better ( Prosecutor very impressively played by Pavel Grjaznov); low-middle-class people whose life was bumping into a dead-lock at its every move in between the two World Wars in Germany and who were eager to find the best reasoning for their perpetual misfortunes which are – ‘those Jews!..’, of course ( Insurance Agent played by Adrian Rostovsky).
We are seeing the honest and brave super-minority of Germans who were whipped off by the arrogant power-grabbers and abandoned by the rest of the society in astonishing unity of fear ( Franz played by Stanislav Nikolsky); and also those who represented the majority of the country swapped by Hitler, and their transformation, from observers into gutless puppets ( Minna, the weinstube’s hostess, in a brilliant performance of muli-talented Maria Nikiforova).
That transformation of the society took about a decade in Germany, from 1929 when Hitler was released from prison prematurely, until the Kristallnacht in November 1938 when the German society had become basically ready for the rapid slip into the abyss; the abyss where not only the victims of Nazism were thrown to with animalistic enthusiasm, but also those bystanders who were paralysed by their own fear, too. In the best cases, that personal swiping fear had been transformed into despair among those with remnants of conscience.
We are sympathising and living through a fatal metamorphoses that decent people had allow themselves to be subdued to in that deadly jig of terror that the Nazis started to exercise upon their own citizens first, several years before they were allowed to spread it all over Europe. Decent and respected teacher Carl Furke is turned – under the pressuring, thickening atmosphere of the Nazism, but by himself, unable to withstand the pressure – into completely lost, totally
consumed by a swiping fear creature who is ready to turn in voluntarily on groundless, yet better, self-imagined accusations. This role of self-destroyed German intelligenzia is played by famed actor Sergey Vlasov at extra-ordinary level. His achievement fully deserves theatrical Oscar.
Lev Dodin also brings to his play two very Brecht-like personages, political refugees in pre-Second World war Europe, Ziffel and Kalle, played by the trade-mark duo of highly accomplished actors, Tatjana Shestakova and Sergey Kuryshev. Ziffel is Jewish scientist who had been thrown away from his job; Kalle had spent some time in the concentration camp in Germany but got away from there, luckily. Those were ‘vegetarian’ times in Germany, still. Those two personages are appealing to the audience throughout the whole performance, following the punctuation in which political refugees are inclined to talk: an allusion, a hint, a bitter joke. Nothing is said directly, and everything is said, anyway. This reverberates with the Russian public especially well, due to the historical reasons and extremely well-developed tradition of euphemism there, both in art and in real life.
It is amazing to see on how one hundred years after the Bolshevik revolution the Russian audience is so genuinely perceptive to the game of hints blossoming in the Dodin’s composition of the Brecht’s texts. But what yet more important, in my view, it is the fact that today in Russia its best theatrical director and his team are analysing the Nazism with such passion, clarity and in such detail that it gets deep down the mind of anyone sitting in the audience. This intention to bring a qualitative change into the very way of analysing Hitlerism and Nazism in the Russian society is a very noble action of the director.
The need of such qualitative change of thinking regarding the Nazism in Russia and in general all across the former Soviet Union space is due to the utter lack of detailed knowledge of what had really happened in Germany with Hitler’s rise to power and how the Holocaust had been conducted. The Soviet society had highly insufficient knowledge about it, and many people are still lacking deeper understanding and detailed knowledge of the processes that led to the Holocaust and on how it had been executed. The Dodin’s performance is evoking the people’s thoughts, generates their intention to analyse on how the feast of the evil on earth known as the Nazi regime, has become possible.
The most important, the most emotional, the most unforgettable impression from that rare theatrical performance is the incredibly powerful line of Judith the Jewess which Dodin had built throughout the drama. The symbol of the Jewish tragedy in the Fear, Love, Despair is performed by Irina Tychinina with admirable dignity, taste and by most laconic means. But the life the actress has put into her role, the tears she cries so very personally there makes one to forget completely that it is a theatre in front of you.
We are seeing Judith from the beginning to the end of the performance. She appears there gracefully and disappears quietly; then she appears again – as our thoughts, our conscience, our memory which is never consoled over our brethren which had been violated so totally and so determinedly. Both the director and the actress had put in this outstanding performance their own innermost thoughts, ideas and feelings. They did it so honestly that the pain of the memory has overwhelmed everyone sitting in the MDT Theatre hall.
On the stage, distinguished Jewish woman being pale from the ongoing shock of her and her people’s pain is approaching the issue of life and death gently and decently. Her first questions are turned onto herself: “Could it be that it is mine fault, too? Being selfish and not that responsive on the injustices towards the others, did not I inflict the current disaster upon myself, as well? Is it the time to pay for being indifferent?..” And then, the known snowball of the Nazi axe cutting Jews from life, even if it is the very beginning of the process, years before the unfold of the Final Solution, is rolling in front of us in the dark theatrical hall, in sublime reflections of Judith-Tychinina, and gradually you are starting to feel the lack of oxygen around you, your heart is almost stopped, and you feel it as a stone. A stone which we are bringing to our graves. The Dodin’s stone is the one which we are bringing to the graves not existing. And I would be ever grateful to my friend for that.
The taste and measurement are essential qualities on anything done on the Holocaust. Elie Wiesel did not believe it could be performed or visualised in any way at all. The understanding of the way of the narrative demonstrated by Lev Dodin and his actors is superb. The sincerity with which the ultimate tragedy of the Jewish people is played by Irina Tychinina and supported by her partner Oleg Rjazantzev who plays the Judith’s German husband who is left helpless and staying behind in Germany while his wife is running for life off their country, with all his love melted into unspeakable, incurable despair, is rarely seen at any theatrical stage in the world.
There is no word said in the peak of the tragedy played in front of the breathless public, not a single word for a very long time. Only eyes, and hands, and some very subtle movements of the two people. And all the energy of sorrow accumulated in our memory is there, physically so to the degree that even some men in the audience just could not look onto the stage any longer, but are turning their faces off it dramatically, covering their completely tearful faces by hands.
I do not remember such degree of emotional experience seeing at any theatre in any country at any time. Such honest, simple, so overcharged emotionally and at the same time, contained with all the dignity experience of looking into the mirror of our memory is a rarity in any art. Done in theatre, with its immediate emotional magnetism it makes the performance into unforgettable human experience.
How on earth Lev Dodin did manage to create that scream of silence which is staying with you days after seeing the performance in St Petersburg, and seemingly will be staying with you for a long while?..
When we were talking after the premiere of Fear, Love, Despair Lev Dodin has told to my husband Michael and myself on how much did he read on the Nazism preparing for that so important for him work. “The most terrible thing which I found among all this reading were Hitler’s own speeches and writings. Such evil is of another nature. This is absolutely terrible, to me, worse than the materials of the Nuremberg Trial”,– said Lev Dodin.
This performance is not another piece of theatre. It is a very powerful, very intelligent, brave and articulated statement on memory, pain and tragedy of the Jewish people in the country where the Holocaust is still be not researched nor taught in the way it should. To bring our tragedy in its pulsating pain with such talent, devotion and understanding and to do in theatre that appeals to thousands viewers, is the important contribution into humanity. For that, and for all the flooding tears of so different people in an over-packed hall of the MDT-Theatre of Europe, our deepest Thank You to Lev Dodin and his team.
There are two principal approaches in the vast field of documentary cinema: an objective, absented narrative of a classic pre-1970s BBC style; and subjective portraying of phenomena and people with palpable author’s position, which becomes a strong factor of the narrative itself. The subjective portraying is very demanding job – as once it is done, the author will be always taken accountable for entire film. It can be terribly damaging – as in the case of notorious Michael Moore; but it also can be indisputably gratifying – as in the case of noble Roberto Olla, the great man of the Italian documentary world.
For the last fifteen years, Roberto Olla had immersed himself into the haunting world of the Holocaust. He has produced fifteen documentaries on the subject, marking with his new production every International Holocaust Remembrance Day on RAI, Italian National broadcast television, from 2001 onward. Such consistency is a legacy of its own. But an interest towards a subject is not enough yet to make a film a factor of life – as Roberto’s films are known of.
What makes his films to become more than a cinema production? What makes them a part of historical process, of our effort to come to terms with the comprehension of a human nature after the Holocaust which has shattered the basics of moral to the pieces?
In the latest Roberto’s film, L’Altra Meta Di Un Numero ( The Other Half of a Number) we are seeing a synthesis on many levels: in genre, in the way of documenting the narrative, in addressing the film to its audiences.
The Other Half of a Number means the wives of the Holocaust survivors who with their bottomless devotion and love did help to their men to return to life after them being in Hell. Very interestingly, two wives portrayed in the film, Marika Kaufmann Venezia, and Selma Doumalar Modiano are very similar in their characters and even appearance; one could take them for sisters, cousins or relatives easily – against the fact that their husbands, late Shlomo Venezia and Sami Modiano are very different indeed. The women who did help their men to come back to life after the Nazi-made inferno, both are very calm, very deep, loving, and incredibly strong in their fragility. Watching them, one learns what love is about, indeed – despite just anything.
In its genre, the film melts a solid reportage in the scenes of current events of bringing the group of Italian students to Auschwitz together with Venezia and Modiano couples who are telling the kids what had happened to them and the others at this very place; the masterly essay in focusing on unforgettable details – it seems that tattooed by the Nazi beasts numbers on a human hands had been filmed million times; but in the Roberto Olla’s film it is done in the deep and hardly forgettable way. Talking on detail, one would never forget the tears of the former Auschwitz prisoner Sami Modiano with his head against the old cattle wagon in the middle of Auschwitz 70 years on. This one and the other close range’ moments in the film are qualifies for a classic in a historical documentary genre.
The film goes through many interviews as well, and it also includes the elements of an essay and meditation, especially in all episodes where the music takes its reign; the unbelievable, strong, dramatic, living music written by Gabrielle Ciampi that excludes necessity of words completely.
It seems to me that the angels responsible for the souls of exterminated by the Nazis and their collaborators millions in Auschwitz and elsewhere, were clearly helping to Roberto and his team a big way: on the day of the filming of the group of the Italian kids visit to the camp, there were not simply grey skies over the Auschwitz. It was a heavy rain, as if skies were crying along with Shlomo Venezia, Sami Modiano and their wives addressing the children at the terrible spot.
It is a well known ‘professional secret’ among those who are busy with the Holocaust theme in what they do, that the testimonies given at the camps during the hostile weather do bear yet another dimension of the meaning of reflecting on the horror occurred. In the Roberto’s film, the Rain of Tears had been pouring over the people in the front of the cameras, both young and old ones, with might and persistence, as if the Heaven itself had been participating in this film, as well. And I have had the strong impression that it was, indeed.
Roberto Olla applies the best craft of the documentary journalism into his new film. As it is customary of him, he is extremely laconic when it comes to his own presence in his productions. The classic documentary journalism is just about that – for the author to be seen at very least on the screen giving the room for his heroes. But in reality, this golden rule of the documentary cinematography is followed by only few people. There are way too many documentaries on rather interesting subjects which, however, are resolved as a mirror to their authors’ egos which is rather ironic.
Roberto Olla never comes before his subjects. His selflessness is natural for him as the author. And it gives to his films the aura of love, respect and true interest of the author on his heroes. This is where professional requirements meet human qualities, to the effect unspoken, deeply rooted decency. The films with such underneath qualities are teaching the viewers in their own, sub-conscious way, and it is as rare, as important.
Roberto Olla tells the two very different the Auschwitz inmates’ stories in his film, the one of the very rare surviving the Sonderkommando member, the only one Italian of those people ( late Shlomo Venezia), and the one of the teenagers of the camp who had been saved to live by his father and looked after and helped in the most macabre-like situations by the elder co-prisoners ( Sami Modiano). This mini-mosaic brings to us who are watching the film today, the multi-layer reality of the Holocaust when in order to survive you should be masked as a corpse; when you had to bury your compatriots daily, to live with it till the rest of your life. And here comes those wonderful, completely devoted, understanding, supporting women, petite and quiet ones, strong in their love as a rock.
Roberto Olla listens to his heroes by heart. He has this talent of creating intimate, refined character of the Holocaust testimonies. Both his heroes and their wives are speaking to the author with a complete trust, almost as if talking with themselves. This level of trust produces not only very touching monologues, but it opens up a treasury box of a complete sincerity. As we know, sincerity is vulnerable. But paradoxically, deeply moving and emotional monologues by the heroes of Roberto Olla are creating a sense of increasing strength. What can be stronger than disarming truth straight away from Inferno, especially the one said in slow and quiet way?..
In everything he does, Roberto Olla demonstrates a very rare quality, both professionally and human-wise: his films and books are the products of heartfelt mind and minding heart.
But as intimate and personal the most of the film’s narrative is, the author masterly places it into the bigger context, and Olla’s intuition is the best of the kind. It is artistic, intellectual and historical intuition of an erudite. In the end of the film telling two personal stories, Roberto Olla shows us a rare footage from the USA military archives. It is clear that the author undertook a serious work in order to find the footage which would be new and meaningful. He succeeded in that a great way. The coloured footage shown by Roberto Olla in his film was sensational to me. Firstly, there is not much of the coloured Holocaust related footage from 1945, it is a rare material. Secondly, the colour of the footage creates unexpected effect. It brings those prisoners, whom I call ‘shadows of men’, to life. It gets into the stark contrast with so well known and absolutely awful black & white pictures that we all had to use to some degree by now, and especially after the new release of the Hitchcock’s The Night Is Dark footage on the Holocaust.
The coloured footage shown by Roberto Olla in his film does show those people much more alive and real, as they were in life. Yes, very dramatic, but still a part of life, not shadows. That coloured footage did show us those people, just after the camps, in the middle of their daily routine, and it was an extra-ordinary statement. The men in the stripped uniforms, some with the stripped prisoner hats, were sitting under the sun, and were preparing some food for themselves over the fire. Their motions were so very slow, and they did everything in clearly slowed down rhythm, being fixated on practically everything, mostly on the food that they were stirring slowly over the fire. It was the returning to the life, literally. But it was also a half-returning as you can see that the people being profoundly traumatised. The footage is simply heartbreaking.
The quality of music in the film is outstanding. The Gabriele Ciampi’s music played at the Santa Cecilia school by young musicians today, with survivors and their families and friends present, seemed to be the best – and the most honest, intellectually – way of telling the story and also to keep the memory about it alive. It is important element of the film, but also, in the way it has been done, the small concert at Santa Cecilia was a very good and meaningful deed. The music has a special effect: played at its crescendo in the film’s end, it is not rounding up its content in the way it is done in so many films; but it awakes the viewers to the film’s beginning, to its theme, to the people whose innermost dramas and tragedies were just shared with those young students visiting Auschwitz, and us all. It was another elegant and masterly finding of Roberto and his team in the film, and a very talented creation by Gabriele Ciampi.
And the last, but not least impression. Roberto Olla did succeed in very uneasy task: in personification of the Holocaust memories. Sami Modiano is a very emotional man, and his image gets into one’s memory easily. But one should be able to see into people and to talk with the Holocaust survivors in a very special way to make them open up in the way which Roberto did it with Sami Modiano. Thanks to that extraordinary work of love, everyone who saw the film would remember Sami and his story for ever. And for many, Sami and his eyes, his hands, and his voice would also personify the Holocaust, and thus make a personal tragedy a universal one, and visa versum. This fact alone has made the Roberto’s mission absolutely successful.
Two days after the Italian premiere of the film at the Rai 1, the president of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella hold the state reception in commemoration of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. He, who had visited Auschwitz, too, spoke very deeply, being moved and thoughtful. In the Quirinale splendid hall, among the distinguished guests I saw Sami Mondiano whom I related now almost like to a family member, thanks to Roberto Olla. I was proud and happy for Sami and his family. And I knew that everyone in that hall, in the heart of the Italian state, did know on the Sami’s, his father’s, his family’s, his friends’, his fellow inmates’ history; that everyone there, even unwittingly, remembered that number on the Sami’s hand which we all were seeing so very closely just a couple of days before on our screens. And I also knew that the hearts of many people in the Quirinale hall, including the highest leadership of the country, as the hearts of so many of us who did see the L’Altra Meta Di Un Numero film, had been also tattooed with the number of the Sami’s hand, from the story that had been brought to us by Roberto Olla and his team with such love, such devotion, and so masterly.But there are many other things in the film, and in general in the Roberto Olla’s work for which we all should be very grateful to this big master and great man.
When a film is becoming a human deed, it is the best legacy of its creator. And this very much is the case of L’Altra Meta Di Un Numero and its author, the great Roberto Olla.
Dr Inna Rogatchi is the writer, scholar and film-maker. She is the president of the The Rogatchi Foundation – www.rogatchifoundation.org Her recent film is The Lessons of Survival. Conversations with Simon Wiesenthal – www.rogatchifilms.org , and her forthcoming book is Dark Stars, Wise Hearts: Challenges of the Post-Holocaust Legacy .