Nov 7, 2011

Days of Nietzche in Turin

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. 

-Ty E


jervaise brooke hamster said...

I liked the picture of the girl showing her bum. By the way, in that close-up he looks like that worthless British cunt Bob Hoskins.

Anonymous said...

In the picture at the top of the page he looks like Kevin Costner.

eddie lydecker said...

I wonder what Nietzsche would`ve thought of Jervaise Brooke Hamsters obsession with Heather O`Rourke ?.

Michel Foucault said...

Neo-Freudian Jervaise Brooke Hamsters' ingenious social commentary brings new and true meaning to bloody Kraut Nietzsche's phrase: "“Ah, women. They make the highs higher and the lows more frequent.” I believe that time will reveal the prophetic genius of self-loathing Brit hamsters' hammy and equally steamy commentary. The time of SEXUAL REPRESSION will officially end when every English city has a statue of J.B. Hamster cradling a cutesy blond toddler girl in his arms.



Dionysos ANDRONIS on Kaganof’s three hour long epic "NIETZSCHE INNA BABYLON"
With this feature-length film made in 2002, Aryan Kaganof comes back to the same path of poetic and personal reconstitution of History, a path already traced in films such as “Western 4.33” the same year. In this long film there is first of all a popular genre “road-movie” aspect, and then the aspect of an experimental documentary based on the energy of the music. This is why we have two guides for our trip; Djeff Babcock, Kaganof’s fetish actor (Kyodai, The Sequence of the Parallel Bars, Ghost Sonata, Funeral, etc.) and Bill Canell, the famous musical impresario – which is why the musical editing is very powerful, as in all Kaganof’s films.
The film opens on a big motorway strewn with signs for the cars. A sign informs us that we are on the way to Groningen, the town in Northern Germany. Babcock is alone at the beginning and we listen to his monologue as he introduces himself. He plays Friedrich Nietzsche in the film, or rather his contemporary alter ego. This monologue comes back to us later to confuse our leads as to his motivations and actual intentions.
His first visit is to an art gallery in the same town and just afterwards he comes across Bill Canell who lets him get into his Jeep. In parallel action Babcock is travelling by bike in a dreamlike atmosphere which belongs to the second level of the film, that of a slow backward march to the opposite extreme of the first journey. This second level is intentionally very highly-coloured and full of memories, and the central character is Elisabeth, Nietzsche’s old heroine. Other monologues in German begin with quotations about the personality of the philosopher portrayed here. The two main characters get into a lorry to go towards Berlin. On the way they stop at a recording studio to listen to Blixa Bargeld, the famous German musician who already worked with Kaganof in the documentary “Crossing Border Tapes” in 1996. In the 46th minute of the film the second credits appear, with the Funeral March as a sonic accompaniment. The subtitle reads “A Film About Forgiveness and Despair”. It is the triumphant arrival at Berlin, to the sound of the German National Anthem. First they meet Elisabeth, an old woman and Nietzsche’s former lover. A voice-off telephone conversation informs us of this meeting. In the protagonists’ memories she was young and beautiful and naked. They take the lift together, which stops in between storeys as the image freezes. Is this symbolic? Of course it is! It’s a confirmation that Nietzsche’s imaginary resurrection does not really work today.
Nietzsche sets off towards the central train station. A subtitle says “Nietzsche’s Last Journey”. He is alone in front of the signs showing the route to Poland, notably to Treblinka and Auschwitz. Reports with faded images begin, with the deported people from the distant past. A new subtitle reads “Nietzsche and the Jews”. As we all know, the philosopher was slightly anti-Semitic in his time, but is it important to bring that up today? In parallel, the impresario wanders around a deserted factory.

That evening they meet in a hotel room where Nietzsche kills the impresario with an enormous hammer, raising questions with no answers; “why this murder, for what motive, exactly, which person close to Nietzsche does Bill Canell represent?” We saw a few images anticipating this murder on the screen at the recording studio. The main character from the beginning then finds himself alone walking through Berlin at night, as another inscription reads “Nietzsche in Berlin in the Year 3000”. It is worth noting that Djeff Babcock is also the author of a novel entitled “The Corpse Grinders of Berlin”, brought out by the publishing house that Kaganof runs.
October 12, 2006
translated from the french by lucy lyall grant