Baarža (2009)

 

 

 

Director:     Giuseppe Tornatore.

Starring:     Francesco Scianna (Peppino Torrenuova), Margareth MadŤ (Mannina), Raoul Bova (Roman journalist), Giorgio Faletti (Corteccia), Leo Gullotta (Liborio), Nicole Grimaudo (Mannina as a girl), Gabriele Lavia (Teacher), Ńngela Molina (Sarina), Enrico Lo Verso (Minicu), Nino Frassica (Giacomo Bartolotta), Aldo (Speculator), Ficarra (Nino), Picone (Luigi), Marcello Mazzarella (Podestŗ), Luigi Lo Cascio (Beggard's son).

a young man grows up noticing the injustices of living under the thumb of the local tycoon; he joins the Communist party and we see history through his eyes

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Bagheria, Sicily.  (Baarža is another name for Bagheria.)  Boys are playing with spinning tops.  One of the men playing cards at a table and surrounded by other men, calls the boy Pietro over to him.  The man wants Pietro Torrenuova to go buy him some cigarettes.  He spits on the ground and says that if Pietro can get him his cigarettes before the spit dries, he will give him 20 lira.  Everybody starts yelling for Pietro to run, run, run.  Pietro takes off as fast as he can go.  The boy starts to become out of breath and then imagines himself flying over his town.

He flies over a boy who is running as hard as he can. 

Flashback.  A man calls from the school:  "Peppino, move it!  Move it!"  Peppino Torrenuova is late for school. 

In the classroom, the teacher leads the boys in the singing of a song praising Il Duce.  Peppino still sits at his desk and doesn't sing. The teacher demands to know why isn't he singing?  He does not answer her and this makes the teacher very angry.  She opens the top of his desk to find that he has no books with him.  She grabs him by the ear and brings him up to the front of the class.  She then starts slappingt him.  Peppino finally says that his goat ate his book.  She shoves Peppino into a corner where he is to stay. 

People are watching a silent movie.  Men who can't read start asking the rude questions of the man who reads the captions for the people who can't read (which is most of them).  The speaker demands that the audience stop all this rudeness.  The men in the audience grab a young man named Cicco Torrenuova and say that he is the one shouting the rude comments and questions.  Cicco swears that it wasn't him.  The reader doesn't believe him, so Cicco jumps on him and starts biting his neck. 

Outside Cicco picks up an anvil using only his teeth.  Cicco pulls it up and then drops it.  The man who bet him he couldn't do it, now has to pay up to Cicco. 

While the women and children eat raw onions and bread, the men are picking olives off the trees.  There are men with rifles that make sure the work gets done.  One of these riflemen grabs two young boys, declares them slackers and tells them to get back to work.  At the end of the day every worker gets patted down to make sure they didn't hide any olives in their clothes.  A rifleman sticks his hand down a woman's blouse and she starts screaming and calling him a pervert.  So the boss has her thrown out to never return to work for him.  Peppino only has 9.5 baskets of olives instead of the allotted 10 and he gets tossed out too.  Two guards grab him and carry him over to a tree.  They spank him by bashing his rear end into a tree trunk over and over. 

At a theater performance a singer sings a love song to a portrait of Mussolini.  This offends the fascist police and three men grab him and carry him off the stage.  They carry him outside.  The singer asks Cicco to get his books in the dressing room.  The chief of police concludes from this that Cicco was the one laughing at the song.  And the chief is none too happy about that. 

Cicco with his two boys, Nino and Peppino, walks away from the theater with the singer's books in his hands.  Nino asks dad why did the police arrest his cousin, the singer?  Dad says they will talk about that at home. 

The next morning Peppino has to stay with Minicu for around two months.  The small boy will be working as a shepherd for Minicu.  They drive the sheep up into the mountains.  High up there Peppino has an overlook of his entire town.   

Don Carlo comes into the butcher shop and all the customers say hello to him.  A woman named Tana begs for a few scraps of meat for her "cat".  She takes the meat home, cooks it and fans the smoke into the street to make people think they have a lot of food.  The woman tells her sick daughter that the aroma will make people think they have food.  In actuality, they haven't eaten for a week.  She says:  "Better dead than having people talk about you, remember that."

Minicu tells Peppino that if he can throw a rock and hit all three mounds of rock with one throw, a treasure in gold will open up to him.  Peppino starts to throw rocks but can only hit one mound at a time.  Peppino brings a cow into town along with a bucket.  He stops at different shops and offers fresh milk for sale.  A man selling sausage in links mocks the police chief by walking like the chief and imitating his walking style.  The chief stops and tells his men to get that man out of here.  They pick him up and carry him away to jail.  The police chief salutes Don Carlo and the rich man returns his salute. 

An artist comes over to Peppino with his sketch book, examines his face closely and says the word "perfect" to him.  Peppino doesn't know what the man is talking about.  A little later Peppino yells at a man eating a sandwich very slowly that he could eat such a sandwich in four bites.  So the man buys another sandwich from the vendor, splits it in four pieces and demands that Peppino eat the sandwich in four bites.  Peppino grabs the smallest piece first and tries to force it all into his mouth.  He is not doing very well, so the fellow grabs him and forces the rest of the quarter of a sandwich into his mouth.  Cicco sees what's going on and intervenes telling the man it's not right to be picking on small boys.  A man in the crowd grabs one piece of the sandwich, while Nino and Peppino grab the last two pieces. 

The artist is painting a mural using the locals as models.  The guys get impatient after awhile and start complaining that the painting is taking too long.  The artist shouts down to them that if they move, he will never be able to finish the painting.  The men and Peppino retake their poses, but now the priest comes to ask:  "Renato!  Are you sure it'll look nice?"  Renato shouts to him:  "Father Nespola, don't bother checking up on me.  You must see the finished product!"  The priest complains: ". . . why must the apostles and angels have the faces of these crooks?"  The men protest this remark and Peppino has a good laugh. 

Some years later, Peppino is an older boy, getting a haircut in the street.  He asks his father if he can make his hair cut like that of the silent film actor Rodolfo Valentino?  Dad dismisses the idea as frivolous.  The postman gives a letter for Nino to Nino's father.  The now fully grown Nino asks if that's his draft notice?  Dad nods his head yes. 

Peppino brings some milk to the local barber shop.  The guys are talking in secret about if Stalin can intervene in what is going on these days?  The men see three suspicious characters standing outside the shop of Ignazio.  One of the men, Gioacchino Corrao from Palermo, comes into the shop and asks if the clerk is Ignazio the poet?  Yes.  Can Ignazio lend a book by Marx to him?  Ignazio knows what the guys are up to and runs around the counter to get at Gioacchino.  Meanwhile, the two other guys outside rush inside and start tearing up the place.  Ignazio yells at them that they already shut down his magazine!  Ignazio chases them out of the shop, but not before they have done a great deal of damage.  He yells at the fleeing men:  "May you rot in hell!"

In order not to go into the army, Minicu uses a sledge hammer with which to strike his left foot.  In the next scene, we see Nino in an army uniform with a lot of other men and new recruits/draftees getting on the train in town. 

Poor Tana comes into town with her now grown daughter who is pretty.  She goes into the fruit packing shop and asks the boss, who fired her from her job as a packer, if he would hire her daughter Mannina?  The boss shouts that he is going to fire half the staff by the end of June.  All work suddenly stops as the workers are stunned by the news of being laid off. 

At night Peppino is walking on the street, when two policemen turn the corner and shoot somebody down with their rifles.  Peppino runs for help.  He knocks on the nearest door and shouts:  "Hurry, a man was killed on Via Buttitta!"  Peppino is takien to the police station.  He can't believe that the police seem not to believe him. 

Peppino rides atop of a train car along with lots of men. 

Back in town the people receive a great fright as enemy airplanes fly low over the village.  They all start running for cover.  The citizens rush to an ad-hoc bomb shelter.  Cicco's wife keeps screaming her head off.  Cicco has to tell her:  "Calm down.  They're bombing Palermo, not here."  A bomb lands near the shelter and scares the people in the bomb shelter.  Someone knocks on the barn door yelling to Peppino that the Americans are coming.  After the planes are gone, the people start rushing over to a government building where an abundance of food is kept.  They break into the place and start looting, grabbing everything they can get their hands on. 

A man uses a pick axe to drive a small hole into a money safe in the government building.  They need someone with small hands, so they grab Peppino.  The boy puts his hand in, grabs some coins and throws them out to the crowd.  While everyone is occupied by picking up the coins, Peppino grabs some stacks of paper money and slips them beneath his shirt.  A man sees Peppino doing this and chases after him.  Peppino races out into the street.  Just as Pietro raced down the streets to get a man some cigarettes, Peppino now races down the streets to stay ahead of the man chasing him.  

A man and his daughter arrive too late to the government building.  There is nothing left for them to take.  So Dad takes off one of the doors in the building and marches home with it. 

The Americans come to town.  One soldier asks the waitress if she can make him an onion salad?  The woman asks her daughter what does the soldier want?  A salad she answers.  Mom looks at the young soldier and says in Italian:  "Fuck off!"  The soldiers understand that and they all start laughing, except for the fellow who wants the onion salad.  He grabs the little girl and takes her into the kitchen to tell her what he wants.  He pretends like he is chopping up onions and starts fake crying and rubbing his eyes.  Now she understands what he wants.  She tells her mother and the soldier is going to get his onion salad.  In return the soldier gives the girl a parachute.  The girl will make clothes from it for people who can buy them. 

Pepino tells Don Giacinto that he is trying to cheat a farmer on the purchase price of some land.  The rich man says that Peppino and his family halve always been a thorn in his side.  Two of his men grab Peppino and the wealthy one slaps him across the face. 

Peppino gets a Communist party card.  He is very happy about this and he reads a membership pamphlet concerning the duties of a party member. 

Now Peppino is a young man.  He notices a pretty girl, Mannina, who walks by him, while he is milking a cow.  He follows her with his cow to her embroidery class.  After the teacher leaves, the women start dancing with each other. 

Peppino signs up for dance class.  The men dance with each other in this class.  His dance partner is Onofrio Pace and they introduce themselves to each other.  The only woman in the joint is the teacher Teresa.  Someone asks her when will she marry?  She answers:  "I'm still waiting for gratitude from Bagheria's men." 

Peppino listens to a speaker in the streets talking about establishing a republic in Italy.  A bunch of opponents to a republic charge the crowd and disperse it.  Peppino has to run for his life.  He sees some of the attackers catching up with him and he starts swinging.  He knocks a guy down and starts to really clobber him, when the man tells Peppino that he's his brother Nino.  He asks Peppino:  "The war didn't kill me, but you want to?"

At night the town holds a dance.  Women dance with women and men dance with men.  Peppino is outside with a lot of the men.  He sees Mannina dancing. When all the guys outside are invited in, Peppino goes up to asks Maqnnina to dance with him.  She agrees and Peppino leads her to the center of the dance hall.  The guys see this and decide that since women are dancing with men, they will do the same.  The dance is held for the leftists in town, because the republican speaker is there to say:  "Following the victory of the republic, this dance marks the start of Socialism!"

Peppino says that he should introduce himself to Mannina.   She says that's not necessary.  She knows who he is.  Peppino is a bit flattered.

On another day, Tana sees Mannina talking in a primitive sign language with Peppino across the way.  Mother shouts to Mannina:  "Get inside!"

Traveling on a train, Peppino writes a letter to Mannina.  He explains that he has been traveling on business.  He writes:  "You're in my thoughts, can't wait to see you and be together."  He also writes that he wants to speak to her parents about her and himself.  Peppino also says she must know that he is a communist. 

Onofrio and Peppino take part in a communist protest in the streets.  Mannina watches Peppino as he marches down the street.  The mostly men are marching because Sicily's Labor Day was hit by a massacre.  The outlaw Giuliano shot farmers down. 

Mannina writes a note to Peppino saying that ". . . some trustworthy people say you're a good-for-nothing and your family is in ruins because all of the cows purchased at the war's end with your lottery winnings have perished one by one and that's why your family doesn't have a pot to piss in".  She goes on to say that her uncles said that the communists are worse than the disease that killed Peppino's cows.  Mannina writes that she doesn't believe all this, but her parents do and they are going to get her married to a man who owns lots of land. 

Peppino sees Mannina with her rich man walking arm in arm with him.  She and Peppino see each other, but both of them walk by each other stern-faced.  Back home, Mannina keeps her suitor at bay. She secretly talks with Peppino and tells him:  "If he tries to kiss me, I'll stab him."  Mannina speaks of eloping and Peppino is of like mind.  They kiss through the barred window.  Mannina's fiancť sees this and starts throwing stones at Peppino telling him to leave Mannina alone.  Now both guys are throwing stones at each other. 

Mannina runs to the stone quarry to protest to her father that she doesn't want to marry the a rich man.  She says he's ugly.  He tells her:  "Remember, the man you want will never set foot in my home!"

In the movie theater Onofrio tells Peppino to elope like everyone else does.  Peppino says he doesn't have a cent to his name.   Then he sees Fred Astaire putssome troublesome people into a closet and he locks the door from outside.

When Tana leaves the house, Peppino sneaks into the house.  He finds Mannina preparing some bread.  They hug and kiss.  Tana sits down in the street and starts yelling:  "Scoundrel!  You ruined my daughter, what'll I do now?"  A little boy looking through the shutters shouts to her:  "Come see, they're kissing again."  This makes Tana mad and she chases the boy away and yells at the couple through the shutters:  "You wretch!  You homewrecker!  Come out!"  Peppino answers back:  "We're not coming out, you need to accept it."  Mannina tells her mother:  "We've eloped."  Mother shouts back:  "How senseless, eloping in your own home!"

Cicco comes home from work and bangs on the door.  Peppino comes to the door and opens it.   Cicco tells the couple to come out and he will settle this matter.  They come out of the house.  He tells them to go home and he will see them later. 

The couple are in church getting married.

Mannina is pregnant.  Her grandmother gets her a drink of fresh cow blood from a cow whose throat was just cut. 

Mannina has a miscarriage.  Peppino makes a small casket for the baby.  He takes the baby in the casket to the cemetery.  He digs a hole there and puts the casket in it. 

Mannina and Peppino leave their house to move to another house not far away. 

The next time we see Mannina she has a baby with her. 

Mannina is pregnant again. 

Now Mannina has two children and is pregnant again.  The names of the children are Michele and Angela.  Mannina is not too happy with her husband saying that he needs to get a good job instead of always being a shepherd. 

Mannina goes to the store with her new baby.  (Brief nudity involving breast feeding.)  She borrows 150 lira from the shop owner. 

While Cicco reads a book, his sheep go onto the rich man's land.  The rich guy yells at Peppino for reading a book when he is supposed to be controlling the sheep.  Cicco gets the sheep off the man's land, but he is also a little fresh with his neighbor, and gets busted in the face by one of the guards.  Dad's boys are soon out for revenge.  Don Giacito appears in the square and the two Torrenuova brothers come over to him.  Peppino really slaps Don Giacito hard. 

At a communist meeting, the chairman asks if Peppino is prepared to travel to the Kremlin?  Peppino asks in what way is he to be prepared?  Does Peppino have a heavy overcoat?  No. 

Peppino and some other fellows go to see old man and comrade Liborio.  They say they heard that Liborio has a tailor-made overcoat.  Liborio wants to know who ratted him out?  He also asks if this is against the rules of the party?  The men have a good laugh and tell him they want to see the overcoat. 

While Peppino is in Russia, Mannina takes her three children to church to see the mural in which their father Peppino appears.  But when they look up toward the ceiling, the mural is gone.  A cleaning woman tells Mannina:  "The Cardinal had them covered up, too much gossip." Peppino wears the overcoat for his trip to Russia. 

There is a big religious demonstration in the town.  Onofrio asks Peppino why does he seem distraught after coming back from Russia?  Peppino says he saw things in Russia that upset him.  The rain starts pouring down on the celebrators.  It is raining so hard that the men carrying the religious statue of Joseph turn around and return to the church. 

Onofrio, Peppino and another communist wait in the car for the arrival of a communist demonstration.  When the delegation arrives, Peppino awakens his group and the two groups start marching with each other.  Their slogan is:  "The uncultivated land of Coreleone to the farmers!"

Cicco is on his death bed.  He asks for Peppino and Mannina tells him that Peppino is on his way to see his father.  Dad tells Nino that he would have liked to have seen Peppino as a member of the Parliament.  Peppino is out demonstrating with the other communists.

The mafia on horseback charge the demonstrators.  One of the Mafia fires a shotgun at the demonstrators. 

The neighbors all have messages to their dearly departed for the dying Cicco to take to them. 

Coming back from the mafia attack, Peppino writes a news story.  "Gruesome mafia assault this monring on the Princes d' Agro's land.  Peppino arrives just before his father dies.  He walks over to the death bed.  Dad says he was waiting for him. 

There is a very angry crowd of men outside the mayor's place.  Someone says the mayor is fleeing and they should kill him.  The police try to hold them back, but there is a small ocean of them outside.  They bust open the doors to the mayor's office.  Perhaps to throw them off, the mayor warmly greets the spokesman and calls him his cousin.  This shocks a lot of the demonstrators.  Peppino says they are third cousins. 

The neighbor wife of a policeman comes over to Mannina's place to listen to the radio.  The radio broadcaster says:  "In all of Italy's main cities violent protests against the Tambroni government occurred.  The most violent clashes occurred in Genoa, Milan, Rome and Palermo."  There were numerous wounded and dead.  The two women wait for their husbands to return home.  Both husbands come back, but both are hurt. 

Back home, Peppino's bedroom is so overrun with neighbors that they keeping bumping into and hurting Peppino.  He tells them all to go home.  They leave. 

Comrade Onofrio Pace has joined the Socialists and the remaining comrades think of him as a man lost to their cause. 

A journalist interviews Peppino.  Peppino tells them that their agrarian reform was a failure.  He says the rich men got all the good land and the farmers got only the land covered with rocks.   He goes on:  "There, in Sciara, they killed Comrade Salvatore Carnevale.  Behind that mountain, they killed Placido Rizzotto, a great unionist. . . . Near Camporeale, they killed the secretary of the Farmers' Union, Cangelosi. "  He mentions other men killed by the Mafia.  The journalist wants to know how come they didn't kill Peppino? 

Television arrives in the neighborhood and a whole house is filled with people watching it.  Meanwhile, Peppino is leaving to attend another meeting. 

A movie is being filmed in Palermo and some of the neighbors are there watching the shooting.  They film at an old mansion.  Peppino's boys are there to watch. 

Peppino's children go to see the blacksmith who cannot talk.  He uses his hands to indicate he wants the kids to come over to him.  The kids are a bit scared because they don't know what he is doing or saying, so a helper in the shop translates the blacksmith's blatherings and hand signals into Italian.  The blacksmith said to bring the spinning top over to him.  Pietro gives the top to the blacksmith, who starts blathering again.  The helper translates the message:  "If you want it to be light and fast, bring him a live fly!"  So Pietro grabs a fly out of the air and goes over to the top in a vise and puts the fly in the hole in the top.  The blacksmith then puts a hot spindle (that holds the tip) into the hole and taps it down.  Pietro asks:  "But won't that kill the fly?"   

In a dust storm Mannina returns to her house.  It is so hot in the house that the women move the furniture out and mop the floor with water.  Then the kids with only their underwear on and with the women in their slips lay on the floor where now it is so much cooler.  Peppino is in France.

The Peppino boys and four others raid a lemon tree orchard.  They grab lemons as fast as they can.  All of a sudden the man they call the cripple descends on the boys with a vicious roar scaring the boys and sending them running for their lives.  One of the boys in the front of the pack steps on a mine or a bomb and is blown up. 

Peppino writes that his job as a mason in Paris is very hard on him.   He writes that the other night he saw a film by the Italian director Fellini.  He says the comrades elected him as a councilman and the head man found him a job with a Sicilian company. 

Peppino comes back home, but there is no one there waiting at the train station.  Some old friends of his are downtown and they say hello to him. 

Peppino is running for office representing the Communist party.  At home his wife tells him:  "They're two-faced, they won't vote for you." 

Tana politics for her son-in-law.  Her youngest grandson asks her why she is working for dad and the Communist Party?  She says she isn't working for either group, but is working against the Mafia.  The Mafia are the ones who killed her father and she had the job of identifying her father's body. 

The man known as the cripple and who chased the boys into a dangerous part of the lemon orchard has died.   Many of the boys are happy to hear this news, especially the one who lost his leg to an explosion. 

Peppino takes his youngest child to the movies.   The boy is scared of the darkness of the theater. 

The boys in a classroom notice that a construction worker is having sex with a prostitute in the building next door to them.  The teacher tells the boys that if they are very quiet, he will let them watch.  They concur and so they all go over to the windows to watch.  (Brief nudity.)

The years pass and young people start protesting against the war in Vietnam.  His own daughter is very rebellious and gives her father a hard time on many occasions.  In one of the protest meetings, the speaker says that reformists like Peppino Torrenuova are blocking actions taken against the Mafia. 

Peppino is being fitted for a suit at the tailor's place.  There he sees Onofrio and Onofrio sees Peppino.  Neither of them say a word to each other.  Peppino finally breaks the ice and says something.  The two men smile at each other and embrace.

Nino goes to a pharmacist and asks for something that will kill him.  He is disappointed with his life because nothing big ever happened to him.  So the pharmacist gives him a liquid that Nino downs right there in the drugstore.  He goes home to die.  Peppino comes to see his brother Nino.  Nino is all dressed up in a black suit and white shirt, sleeping.  Peppino awakens his brother who is confused about not being dead.  He tells Nino to give the drug a little time to work on him.  Be patient.

Peppino tells his brother that it's a real shame because the elections are coming up and Nino could have helped him win.  Nino says they will never win.  Peppino replies:  Who knows?  Peppino tells Nino that he was nominated by the party to run to be a member of Parliament in Rome.  This excites Nino and soon he gets up out of bed. 

The campaigning begins.  Peppino makes a speech to a crowd of people in the square and then stays to say hello to potential voters. 

Peppino has a celebratory dinner to announce to the children that their mother is pregnant.  The children are very happy at the news. 

With his son Pietro with him, Peppino pays a visit to the doctor.    

Peppino is old now with a steady cough.  For old time's sake he throws a stone at the three rock outcroppings.  He doesn't watch, but he hears the rock hit three times and it lands close to the third rock. 

At the railway station, Pepino says goodbye to his son and tells him to go make a living. 

Back to the present.  Peppino, still in the corner of his classroom where the teacher left him, awakens to find everyone but the janitor gone.  He slowly walks out of school.  He finds the city streets extremely busy, filled with cars.  Traffic is backed up and people are beeping their car horns at the traffic.  He finds scaffolding all around his house and workmen busy working to completely the redo the house.  He finds a girl's earring.  Now he is really confused and asks:  "When was I dreaming?  Before or now?"   The construction workers saw Peppino pick up something.  They call him a thief and run him out of the house and down the street.  And Peppino once again is racing down the streets of his city. As Peppino runs he passes by his future son Pietro rushing to buy the card player's cigarettes before the spit on the ground dries out. 

Pietro returns to the table and puts down the cigarettes.  The card players say that it took Pietro forever to get those cigarettes to the table.  The spit, they say, dried out long ago.  Discouraged, Pietro turns to leave.  The guy who ordered the cigarettes says he is going to give Pietro 20 lira anyway.  But by now, Pietro is disgusted, slams the money on the table and tells the man just to bet the money in the card game.  All the guys sitting and standing around the table have a great laugh. 

Pietro goes back to playing tops with the boys.  His top is broken in half by one of the boys.  From inside the top comes a small fly flying out of the hole inside the spinning top. 

 

 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 

 

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