The Malta Independent 4 December 2020, Friday

Bernard jirranka

Mark A. Sammut Sunday, 22 November 2020, 10:39 Last update: about 13 days ago

This word – jirranka – is not easy to translate. It seems that it derives from the Spanish arrancadura, which means, among other things, enthusiasm and vim. In his dictionary, Aquilina translates it as "to pull his oars". I'm not sure I like this translation. Erin Serracino Inglott speaks of "impetus". That I like more.

Last week, I attended the Nissaħħu Flimkien activity organised by the Nationalist Party, and listened very attentively to what the PN Leader had to say. The only phrase I could think of was, qed jirranka – I could clearly see impetus, energy, enthusiasm. His speech, his vision, even his demeanour. I already wrote that the more you get to know Dr Grech, the more you like him.


I like his vision in particular: it's moderately conservative. As a matter of fact, Dr Grech seems to me the embodiment of Demo-Christian thought. What does being Christian mean? To my layman's mind it means essentially three things: (1) the law is made for man, not man for the law; (2) we are not to stone anyone to death (for those luminaries who might think it's funny to misunderstand me on purpose, I'm obviously using a metaphor); (3) forgiveness, tolerance, acceptance are of the essence.

It's compassionate conservatism, not bigot conservatism. It is an inclusive conservatism, a conservatism that believes in second chances, in accepting differences, in – all said and done – accepting Man at the centre of Politics. It's putting into practice in a democracy Christ's teaching that the Law is made for Man, not vice versa. Man (anthropos, il-bniedem, not l-irġiel) has to be accepted in his variegated manifestations, because Man is ultimately imago Dei, Man is made in the image of God.

From what I can understand, Dr Grech is trying to define a formula that attracts the conservatives but also those who are less conservative. The progressives – those who want abortion, euthanasia, and all the other aberrations of our times – are neither conservatives nor moderately conservative. This, on the social front.

On the economic front, again Dr Grech is working on a formula, which he is explaining little by little, because politics is complex. (Only the Burmarrad wheeler-dealer, because he's a wheeler-dealer, told the people that politics is straight-forward). Again from what I can understand, Dr Grech's formula is based on two points – and I was thoroughly impressed.

First, he said that, unlike Robert Abela, he would tell the people the truth about the Covid-19 pandemic. The truth. Only a gutsy politician can use those words, and Dr Grech used them. The truth about what? About the gravity of the situation, in terms of health (public and private) and its implications on the economy. It is fundamental at this moment to ditch the "waves in the sea" rhetoric and embrace a policy of truth: people need to take stock of the situation to plan ahead, to make the right decisions at such a delicate moment. The economy ultimately depends on the decisions taken by each and every stakeholder. Saying the truth is therefore imperative.

In seeking to strike the balance between public health and the needs of the economy, I think that, again, Dr Grech is being moderately conservative. He is not succumbing to the requests of the Market but he is not shutting the door in the face of the Market either. The Prime Minister would be wise to listen to the vision Dr Grech is weaving.

And then, cherry on the cake: he spoke of his vision that urban development has to be governed by a policy that involves Beauty. Beauty! I was thrilled to hear a politician speak about Beauty. He said it – calmly, clearly, coherently – and it was music to my ears.

Malta has finally a politician who speaks about Truth and Beauty. But it's not airy-fairy. This talk is rooted in the practicality of everyday things. It seems to me that Bernard Grech is the channel through which philosophical principles can be put into practice as policies.

I'm writing this on Friday; you will be reading it on Sunday. My intention is to spend Sunday Morning listening to Dr Grech again. He is turning out to be truly inspiring.


My Personal Video Library (6)

Last week, I started writing about Western movies, movies that I consider to be highly political. The Americans used the Western to construct a narrative of how their nation was created. In a way, it was a white-washing of the genocide committed on the Native Americans. But there were Western movies in which moral issues were debated – High Noon is one such movie.

The Europeans watched this stream of stories on how self-sacrificing, virtuous, macho men won the West and how law and order were imposed on territories that later became States. The Europeans watched and observed, and decided to come up with their own version of this successful genre.

One European who was to change the history of cinema forever, was Sergio Leone (1929-1989).

(If my memory serves me right, his daughter Francesca used to live in or had a connection with Malta.)

Leone, the son of a film director, had started his career working on peplum movies. One day in 1963, a friend insisted he should watch a movie directed by the Japanese Akira Kurosawa, Yojimbo, a samurai movie based on an American novel itself based on Goldoni’s play Arlecchino, Servitore di Due Padroni (it could still be on at the Piccolo in Milan, COVID permitting – sometimes it’s surtitled in English). Leone watched, fell in love with, and transplanted the movie – almost frame by frame – to some God-forsaken town in America. It became A Fistful of Dollars and launched Clint Eastwood’s career.

But it also landed Leone in hot water as Kurosawa sued Leone, and won.

A Fistful of Dollars was innovative, not only because Leone immediately mastered Kurosawa’s technique of elongating time (readers my age will remember the relentless use of this technique in the anime Holly e Benji) but also because Leone introduced a violent element hitherto unseen in Westerns.

There was also Ennio Morricone’s breath-taking score based on an innovative idea: the score was not written after the shooting, but before, and the music was played while the actors acted, opera-like (something that irked the philistine Eastwood).

Leone couldn’t speak English and Eastwood couldn’t speak Italian. Out of this, and the fact that Eastwood disliked the verbose script written by Leone’s Italian scriptwriters, was forged Eastwood’s character – the “Man With No Name”, a character whose communication is extremely pithy, and therefore tough.

A cinematic phenomenon was born: a new kind of Western that narrated the real violence behind the adventures of the desperadoes who tamed the West. The Americans were shocked by this new sub-genre they dismissed as Spaghetti Western. The Italians were overwhelmed: Leone’s movies became among the most-watched movies in Italian cinema history.

Riding the wave of his success, Leone directed a second movie, starring Eastwood: For A Few Dollars More. The same recipe was used: Morricone’s captivating music; raw violence; witty and pithy dialogue; and the addition of two actors, Gianmaria Volonté, then one of the most promising stars in the Italian firmament, and Lee Van Cleef, who was known to American audiences as the villain in a number of movies (such as High Noon).

The success was even greater, and the producers wanted more from Leone. He obliged with the third instalment in the "Man With No Name" Trilogy: the immortal The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly – starring Eastwood, Van Cleef and Eli Wallach, who had appeared in quite a few American Westerns (such as The Magnificent Seven, itself an American remake of another Kurosawa movie) – that went on to become one of the classics of modern cinema. It proposes an anti-hero (the “Good”) who kills more people during the film than the “Bad” does: the “Good” is only less bad than the “Bad”. The movie, that has managed to ingrain itself in the collective imagination, is about a search for gold being rudely interrupted by the ongoing Civil War. Anti-war sentiment, expressed ironically but poignantly, is one of the movie’s themes together with individualism (and the quest for wealth as life's mission) versus spiritual or community goals is the other.

The third movie was even more successful than the first two. In the meantime, the other Italians (and the Germans) understood that this was a cow to be milked – the European Western genre gave rise to some 600 movies from the mid-1960s till the early 1970s. Sergio Corbucci directed the refined The Great Silence, as a Christian rejoinder to Leone’s amoral Fistful movies, and his iconic Django (played by the sky-blue-eyed Franco Nero). (All these movies are referenced by Quentin Tarantino in his jazz-like, crazy movie Django Unchanged.) Sergio Sollima (who in the next decade would keep those of us who were then kids glued to the TV screen with his transposition of Salgari’s Sandokan) directed the classic Face to Face and Run Man Run. Giuseppe Colizzi cast Bud Spencer and Terence Hill together in a loose trilogy starring Eli Wallach and other well-known actors. An entire industry boomed.

And then Leone directed his masterpiece, Once Upon A Time the West, with Henry Fonda (cast as a villain), Claudia Cardinale, Charles Bronson and Jason Robards. At first it was not understood, because the studio thought it was too long and left many scenes out. But even then, the movie was considered a cut above the rest. Morricone again played his magic, and Leone narrated the story of how the railway tamed the West. When the movie was later viewed as Leone had envisioned it, it became the classic Western. It’s the making of America narrated by two Italians: Leone and his lens, and Morricone and his baton.

But by the end of 1960s, the Italian public had had enough. It had become too much. Too many shootings, too many weird characters (“The Man With No Name”, “Django”, and all the minor ones that populated those 600 movies). In this climate of fatigue, one of Leone’s assistants, Enzo Barboni, came up with an idea that infuriated the master: an ironic take on the genre, and the creation of “Trinity”.

Whereas Colizzi had cast Bud Spencer and Terence Hill in the same films, they had taken on serious roles. Enzo Barboni decided to cast them in the ironic and comedic They Call Me Trinity. The year was 1971 and the movie, that poked fun at the entire genre, became the highest-grossing of that year and is among the most-watched in Italian cinema history.

But I will continue the story next time, on how Leone reacted to the two Trinity movies and had the last word closing the debate with elegance and style.

(To be continued.)

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