Nov 7, 2011
If any nation should make a film about German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, it is the ill-fated thinker's own, but Germany, being very possibly the most self-loathing country in the world since their catastrophic defeat during World War II, would not dare make a film about one of their greatest national figures, even if he was an anti-hero and anti-Christ of sorts. Admittedly, I was quite reluctant to watch the Brazilian film Days of Nietzsche in Turin (2001) aka Dias de Nietzsche em Turim directed by Júlio Bressane; an experimental biographical-drama about the German philosopher’s lone contemplative wanderings around the Northern Italian city; the area where the often misunderstood thinker would dream up Twilight of the Gods and his less-than-honest but extremely aesthetically-pleasing autobiography Ecce Homo. It is one thing for a film to feature a portrayal of Nietzsche speaking in the totally alien language of Portuguese but another for the film to have the prophetic Aryan anti-Christ be portrayed by a swarthy, dark-and-greasy-haired fellow whose exaggerated mustache is the only tool that allows the viewer to dispend belief that the man in anyway resembles the great philosopher. Not only is the actor who portrays Nietzsche in Days of Nietzsche in Turin a physical mockery of the terrible Teuton but he also goes as far as fully exposing his wienerschnitzel; the last area of the German philosopher that a diehard Nietzschean would want to uncover. In fact, a good portion of Days of Nietzsche in Turin is dedicated to the philosopher's dubious sexuality and his problems with the unfair, fairer sex. Nietzsche one stated, “Ah, women. They make the highs higher and the lows more frequent” but in Days of Nietzsche in Turin most of Nietzsche's intimate contact with women is voyeuristic and in the imaginary realm of his exceptionally introverted mind. If the film does anything right, it is that it adequately expresses how far the German philosopher had escaped into his own thoughts; a retreat that would prove to be the root of his genius and transcendence into Übermensch status, but also the source of his break into total insanity and an early and lonely death. Indeed, Days of Nietzsche in Turin may not be an extraordinary tribute to a man whose life and work has yet to get an exquisite cinematic tribute that is long overdue but for those individuals interested in the Titanic Teutonic thinker, the film is a passable homage that will have to do for now.
German conservative revolutionary philosopher Oswald Spengler recognized that Friedrich Nietzsche – being a dilettante composer and music addict – was a thinker who philosophized through his ears and that his prose was not “written” but “heard" through a sort of "physiognomic tact." Spengler believed that Nietzsche intuitively felt the rhythm of "culture" and “nobility, ethics, heroism, distinction, and master morality.” In that regard, Days of Nietzsche in Turin also successfully expresses Nietzsche’s inspirations and thoughts as he can be seen throughout the film basking in musical melodies as if it is vital to his very existence (which it undoubtedly was). The film also somewhat successfully expresses Nietzsche’s sensitivity to life and his organic surroundings in general but, of course, most of the film relies on mere speculation in attempting to recapture his last days of sanity. I would even go so far as to nickname the film The Passion of the Anti-Christ as the work permeates a spiritual and almost religious portrayal of his sacrifice as a thinker and prophet of Occidental decline and rebirth (which partially inspired the National Socialist revolution). Nietzsche may have ended his career as a philosopher with a short work entitled The Anti-Christ (1888) but his dire concern for the death of god and reign of slave-morality-based mediocrity in Europe was not in vain. Although his works were written over a century ago, many great thinkers – of all religious and political persuasions – look to Nietzsche’s writings for answers today. What Days of Nietzsche in Turin does best is expressing how Nietzsche – both on an intellectual and personal level – was all by his lonesome. Surely, Days of Nietzsche in Turin is more successful and respectful in capturing Zarathustra’s essence than When Nietzsche Wept (2007) directed by Pinchas Perry. Visually, the film is also flawed in its almost anarchic anachronisms as the work combines modern shaking documentary-style digital video with seemingly vintage film stock from the early days of cinema. Luckily (but certainly unsurprisingly), Days of Nietzsche in Turin features a score by Nietzsche's former friend/father figure and (later) enemy Richard Wagner with excerpts of Nietzsche's writings narrated throughout.
Undoubtedly, the most powerful segment of Days of Nietzsche in Turin is after Nietzsche's mental collapse near the conclusion of the film. In a manner comparable to Woody Allen's underrated mockumentary Zelig (1983) and superior to Robert Zemeckis' Forrest Gump (1994), Bressane was able to animate and give life to the infamous real photo series “The Ill Nietzsche” by Hans Olde in a totally believable and ostensibly authentic way. As someone who has seen these distressing photographs many years and times before seeing Days of Nietzsche in Turin, I could not help but feel awed but slightly saddened by the pseudo-stock footage of the great thinker in a state of total and irrevocable incapacitation. Naturally, the film also portrays the dubious and unverifiable story of Nietzsche’s collapse after witnessing a horse being whipped in Turin. That being said, Days of Nietzsche in Turin is a film that will certainly be of interest to those familiar with Nietzsche and his work but it is doubtful the film will be anything more than a hopelessly tiresome struggle for the uninitiated. Unlike When Nietzsche Wept, it is also obvious that Days of Nietzsche in Turin director Júlio Bressane has a strong passion for the German philosopher’s life, work, and selfless sacrifice. Unfortunately, it is doubtful one can expect a superior cinematic work about the tragic philosopher-poet anytime soon, thus Days of Nietzsche in Turin, albeit flawed, makes for mandatory viewing for those who have gazed into the splendid abyss of the German philosopher's mind.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 10:40 PM
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