Not In My Name!
Lost to the outside in the glare of senior Axis partners in Berlin and Tokyo, Mussolini is a small footnote known if at all for supposedly making the trains run on time, an upside-down ending alongside mistress Clara Petacci, and a rightwing granddaughter senator. Equally forgotten is that, aching for glory, blustering Benito embarked on imperial misadventure so disastrous that an annoyed Führer (both that title and Italian Duce translate as “leader”) had to bail out his fellow Fascist even when the League of Nations twice turned a deaf ear to Haile Selassie I.
If Only I Were That Warrior seeks to remedy at least part of that “willful amnesia,” particularly among young Italians. (To be comprehensively fair, as pointed out during the filmmakers’ discussion at the 23rd African Diaspora International Film Festival U.S.-première screening, most national groups gloss over their past atrocities.)
Judged the best Italian documentary at Florence, the packed seventy-two minutes operates on two fronts: a controversial present dedicatory celebration and the debated past person and events it would memorialize. Aided by Kickstarter, director-writer Valerio Ciriaci and producer Isaak Liptzin spent three years researching especially at Rome’s State Archives, interviewing, and gathering scanty historical footage and stills following their own introduction to the subject at a panel discussion in Manhattan.
Affile mayor Viri has spearheaded a drive for public funds with which to inaugurate and expand a hundred-thirty-thousand-euro monument and educational and recreational center just above the mountain-picturesque town some forty miles from the capital. The architecturally nondescript Honor and Homeland building is not dedicated to “Soldier(s) with a capital S” but to the village’s most famous-infamous son, Field Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, dead exactly sixty years now.
Distinguished in the First World War, this “Butcher of Ethiopia” was not content to take a back seat once sent to Ethiopia, along with Libya where the European boot nation sought to avenge ignominious defeat at Adwa in 1896. Addis Ababa had fallen quickly to 1935 airpower and Western weaponry, but tribal chieftains in Italian East Africa (also encompassing Eritrea and Somaliland) continued defying and harassing the invaders.
Graziani having risen to top military official and viceroy of the colony, there were repression and reprisals, massacres in the capital and at Debre Libanos, burning of monks locked inside monasteries, public hangings and the claimed use of banned mustard gas, with possibly as many as a million killed in the initial and continuing warfare.
The film focuses on three individuals. Two are actively involved in the anti-monument movement -- an Ethiopian-Italian 87.9 FM radio broadcaster and an Italian-American with roots in the Italian army -- while the third, an Italian agronomist in Africa, is interested in war history, cooking pasta, and his much younger flighty local girlfriend. They, and many others with important but shorter screen time, round out the picture.
In troubled times, outlawed neo-Fascism is on the rise in Italy and elsewhere, and there are numbers there who still admire Mussolini and defend Graziani as a soldier doing a good job of obeying orders, as was claimed when in 1948 he faced a lenient Italian military court although never any international war crimes tribunal. Others speak favorably of the immediate and present integration of Italians into Ethiopian society and their influence on the culture. Original Abyssinia, after all, means “country of mixed population,” while current Ethiopia implies “burned darker faces.”
Opponents gather their forces to halt the monument -- dedicated August 12, 2012, but now without any further state subsidies -- and the situation is mired in inconclusive bureaucratic molasses. Meanwhile, IOIWTW asks audiences to consider, not only Italian guilt, hubris, nationalism and convenient forgetfulness, but by implication other nations’ collective false or short memories as well. Controversy rages everywhere over official apologies, recognition, compensation; and few are those free from guilt.
(Released by Awen Films, sponsored by ArtMattan Productions; not rated by MPAA.)