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Una sfida – pt. 2 Posted by on May 9, 2020 in Culture

Fermatevi! Se volete partecipare alla mia ‘sfida’ – cliccate qui. Se volete la risposta… continuate a leggere! Fate attenzione che sopra ci sono alcuni spoiler. Stop! If you want to participate in my challenge, click here. If you want the answer… continue to read! Be warned that below there are some spoilers.

Last week I wrote about the movie Il Conformista by Bernardo Bertolucci, and I challenged you to watch it and find a specific detail in the film. It wasn’t an easy challenge, and I gave you four suggerimenti. Eccoli qua: 

  1. This detail is not translatable.
  2. This detail relates to the overall theme of conformity of the movie. 
  3. There is a political reason for the detail, of which I have talked about in previous blogs. 
  4. This detail can be found in one very specific exchange between characters.

Oggi, vediamo la risposta. Here is the link to the movie again. If you fast-forward to 48 minutes exactly, the phone will ring and you’ll hear Marcello Clerici and Professor Quadri’s first conversation together. Keep in mind, Marcello is a Fascist, and Quadri is a huge critic of Fascism and Mussolini. It is while watching this scene that, after not having seen the movie in years, I nearly leapt off of my couch in excitement.

E allora… l’avete sentito ora? Marcello answers the phone and begins using the ‘voi’ form of courtesy to address Quadri. Then, after Quadri speaks and uses the ‘Lei’ form – Marcello switches mid-sentence, correcting himself from ‘voi’ to ‘Lei’!! 

If you remember in one of my past posts (qui!), I discuss the difference between using ‘voi’ and ‘Lei’ and some history behind it. Essentially, during the Fascist period Mussolini banned the use of ‘Lei’ since it was derived from a foreign source (Spanish) and he restored the use of ‘voi’ since that was the ‘original Italian’ that Dante Alighieri spoke.

Therefore, this small seemingly insignificant detail almost encapsulates the whole film. Marcello is a Fascist but really only because he wants to fit in, and he’s easy to conform and begin to sympathize with the Professor. He even tries multiple times to call off the hit. He does this because he loves the Professor’s wife, yes, but he also respects Quadri, since he represents what exactly Marcello has never been able to do – be completely free and content with being different from the norm, even having been ostracized and exiled to Paris because of it. Later in the film we see them in Quadri’s office discussing the allegory of Plato’s cave, which was Marcello’s thesis that he never finished after the professor left. He says specifically “Mi scusi, Clerici, ma un fascista convinto non parla cosi – Excuse me, Clerici, but a confirmed Fascist doesn’t talk like that.”

And just like that, the Professor sees right through Marcello’s fake Fascist persona, and Marcello can now pick up where he left off with the Professor, finishing his journey through Plato’s cave. In that scene the Professor pulls open the curtains revealing the light, and Marcello’s shadows disappear… representing what is to come.

This allegory of Plato’s cave, and Marcello and Quadri’s relationship, is pivotal for Marcello’s trajectory. So let’s look at a visual of the cave:

Plato presented this allegory to symbolize the “effect of education and the lack of it on our nature.” Marcello is similar to a prisoner in that cave, seeing the shadows on the wall as reality and knowing nothing else. If he were to look back he could see the truth, but he has been staring at shadows for so long that as Plato wrote “… it would hurt his eyes, and he would escape by turning away to the things which he was able to look at, and these he would believe to be clearer than what was being shown to him.” Plato further asserts that someone would need to drag the prisoner from the cave, by force, directly into the light of the sun. It would be a painful journey, but eventually the prisoners eyes would adjust, and he would see the world for how it really is.

At the end of the film we see Marcello in a cave-like structure, kicking and screaming as he denounces everyone around him as Fascists and murderers, having come to a full circle of his painful journey as he encounters the man he believed he had murdered as a child, after this man molested him. We see him turn and look behind himself at the fire, leaving his blind Fascist friend in the darkness. Understanding this allegory also explains the beauty and genius of Bertolucci’s constant use of light and shadow in the film – it’s all to represent Plato’s cave, knowledge and ignorance. I probably can go on and on about that too… for example, did you realize how often the light and shadow created the bars of a prison? How about when he visited his father in an insane asylum, did you notice how bright the scene was to represent his fathers obsession and struggle as he writes and tries to enlighten the other prisoners who are in the dark?

Ecco la ragione per cui questo è uno dei più bei film che ho mai visto. That is the reason for which this is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen.

I hope now you can watch it again in a new light, pun intended.

A la prossima! 

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About the Author: Bridgette

Just your average Irish-American Italo-Francophone. Digital nomad. Gaelophile. Creator of A Polyglot's Inkblot:


  1. Christine:

    Now I have read this will watch it again. Loved the film but now have a better understanding of it. I has to have the English sun titles, Italians speak sooo fast. Waiting for your next recommendation

    • Bridgette:

      @Christine Thanks Christine! I’m so glad you liked it!!

  2. Caroline Swan:

    Your blogs are great. We did this sfida in my Italian class. I must admit that i felt the film had a dark ending… as Clerici turns round to look through the bars at the guy who was still sitting there in the cave, the one who would have gone with the man who seduced Clerici as a child. I felt that C was drawn again in that direction, and just before this he was shouting out “that man is a fascist” .. i thought it was to save himself as the anti-fascist parade was coming through the cave. Also, they were in a cave… no light in a cave. I’m not a pessimist, but it certainly didn’t feel like a “bright” ending. Amazing film though, the photography especially.

    • Bridgette:

      @Caroline Swan You watched this in your Italian class, looking for my sfida? That’s so great! I agree with you about the dark ending. He’s looking back and sees the fire, he sees the reality, but he will just turn right back around and continue to live in the darkness. It was just another way he was trying to confirm.

    • Bridgette:

      @Caroline Swan Or what if he has become the puppeteer himself? A master manipulator keeping those in the dark to his true intentions, only for his own benefit? Hm… so much to unpack still. I am honestly watching the movie again tonight!

  3. Andy:

    Need more blog about film, please! 🙂

  4. minou:

    Le tue domande sulla “sfida” mi hanno ispirato a seguire la tua sfida, anche se non ho potuto risponderle! Dopo i primi tagli di tempo / luogo, non ho potuto seguire at all la storia, quindi I relied heavily sui sottotitoli in inglese per questo primo passaggio.
        Questo film profondo è nuovo per me. Visivamente incredibile, e ho visto molte scene che in seguito hanno ispirato altri film makers. So che la visione ripetuta rivelerà molto altro. Oggi, per me, la scena finale sembra un “crocevia”: Marcello può continuare nella grotta con le spalle al fuoco o può finalmente lasciare che il fuoco lo illumini e così giungere alla una vera vita. Anche, alla fine la moglie “mediocre” sembra essere cresciuta più di lui.
        Lo rivedrò in modo da poter seguire meglio l’italiano senza traduzione. E leggerò la Moravia. (Avevo appena letto Death of Ivan Ilyich; the themes meshed così.)
        Grazie mille per la sfida che mi ha aperto nuove porte!

  5. Terence Carlin:

    Ciao Bridgette, mi è davvero piaciuto leggere il tuo blog molte grazie
    Non avevo visto questo film prima ma trovavo difficile seguire la trama a causa dell’uso di flashback all’inizio del film. Comunque, ne guardare per la seconda volta ha reso molto più facile seguire sia la trama che la sottotrama.
    In riguarda la tua sfida, non avevo notato il sottile cambiamento da “voi” a “Lei” scusa, ma era troppo difficile per me.
    Comunque, ora dovrò leggere il libro perché non mi è chiaro cosa sta cercando di dire Bertolucci e lascia molte domande senza risposta. …Per essempio, È un trattato politico su come un gruppo di disadattati è riuscito a creare uno stato facsista? Il desiderio di Clerici per la normalità, era questo il risultato del suo desiderio di non essere visto come diverso? L’omosessualità repressa di Clerici e la sua convinzione di aver ucciso Lino erano la chiave per comprendere la sua psicologia e il suo desiderio di conformità? Qual è la tua opinione?

  6. minou:

    Buongiorno Bridgette! Ora ho visto Il conformista altre due volte. Alla terza visione ho seguito meglio in italiano e finalmente ho colto il momento Voi a Lei! Mi sono sentito molto orgoglioso di trovarlo. E ora so di più su quella cronologia di utilizzo – grazie a te.
          Inoltre, con la visione aggiuntiva, ora vedo il protagonista come segue (e ho sempre seguito) solo una direzione di tragedia. Ci sono momenti in cui avrebbe potuto cambiare direzione (ad esempio, nell’ufficio del professore; o verso la fine del film con sua moglie che lo sfida; e sicuramente più che non ho notato) ma non ha la capacità di fare il cambiamento. Like the victrolas they wind up throughout the film, Clerici è destinata a girare in continuazione nella tragedia.
          Powerfully done – a la bertolucci
    Grazie mille per questa ricerca! (Spero che il mio povero italiano fosse sufficiente)

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