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“If it is accepted, as it is often said, that without Joan of Arc there would be no France, it is also true that without Yolande of Aragon, there would have been no Joan.”

This historical point was also stressed in the movie about Joan d’Arc, “The Messenger”.

Word by Word

Such a seductive title ‘The Maid and the Queen’ – The Secret History of Joan of Arc and it is indeed an intriguing story, wrapped in faith, hope, superstition, manipulation, cruelty and ultimately the exoneration and beatification of a heroine (Joan of Arc was canonised in 1920).

 Joan of Arc is testimony to the transcendence of the human spirit….She remains an inspiration, not only to the citizens of France, but to oppressed people everywhere.

Ironically, it is due to the inquisition of Joan of Arc that much of the history of the era was documented and preserved, her testimony and the numerous depositions from the many eyewitnesses who knew her and who were in some way involved in the events of the Hundred Years war, that period of conflict between the Kingdoms of England and France and various other alliances from 1337 to 1453, as each sought to claim…

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Vincere directed by Marco Bellochio 2010, is an Italian movie about a bit of Italian history: the struggle of Ida Dalser, lover of Benito Albino Mussolini, for public recognition for herself as his wife, and the paternity of her son, as parts of the life of Benito Mussolini and his place in history. It’s a passionate movie but a sad tale.

Ida Dalser encounters Mussolini early in his career, while he publishes the Popolo d’Italia newsletter and begins to define his aggressive political stance. Following him, and falling in love with him, she supports Benito financially as well as physically, and will eventually bear his son before discovering that Mussolini has been married with children, all this time unbeknownst to her. Although she and Mussolini become more distant as he rises to success and political power, she never loses her emotional connection to him despite the separation, and she struggles valiantly to obtain legal recognition of the paternity of her son.

It is her failure to let go of this issue, that becomes problematic for Mussolini. The fascist party he heads, does it’s best to silence her. Claiming her accusations are false, and labelling her insane, the police have her institutionalized in an asylum for the deranged, and she is stripped of custody of her son. Her treatment is not more tortuous than that suffered by many of the ex-wives of Henry the VIII. But it is the ease by which she is stripped of human rights–her identity and personal voice– and metaphorically imprisoned for mere political purposes, that is the true horror of her situation.

She makes many valiant attempts at escape, and survives over ten years institutionalized. But the treatment becomes more severe as she resists submission and refuses to deny the paternity claim. Ultimately, well into Mussolini’s dictatorship and pre-eminence, Ida and her son will die early deaths while institutionalized. Ida of brain hemorhage and her son will also die at the age of 27 of anti-convulsant drugs. Neither Ida’s claims of her legal marriage to Mussolini, nor the paternity claim, were ever proven. Yet her story lived on, in the tales of those who knew her, well after Mussolini was exocuted by the partisans he fought against, and Italy was freed from his tyranny.

While I watched this movie I was aware of several things. This was an Italian film, directed and produced, with actual historical footage interspersed. It almost had an air of propaganda about it, romanticizing the glory of violent and passionate political struggle. Yet this was not “Dr. Zhivago”. As an American, raised in a democratic culture with a relatively stable and structured judiciary and political system, I had a completely different perspective and expectations of political behavior. I couldn’t perceive any “romance” in the violent mobs’ rioting as portrayed in the movie. I didn’t see any glamour in the silhouettes of running citizens escaping smoke and gunfire. That would terrify me to see happen in America. And yet this was the glory and violence praised by the fascists, versus the alternative of “peace and quiet”. What is so glorious about violence and rioting? Immediate gratification with the illusion of political power and change, but all it seemed to result in, was the excuse for martial law. Martial law strips power from individual citizens, and laid the way for a dictator like Mussolini.

As I watched “Vincere”, I began to wonder, who really were the winners? Obedience to blind passion, physical or political, may appeal to the most human of instincts. But ultimately, without the legal protection for civil rights and regard for individual integrity, “freedom” is meaningless. Even as our country is derided for all it’s blunders and imperfections, as Americans, we should appreciate we are people living in a country with some of the highest protections for human rights in the world.

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recent reads and links I liked:

“Blues, booze & bbq’s” great photo-essay on the heart of soul, Burn magazine.
New York Photo Festival website and comprehensive blogroll.
Joshua Tree Music Festival past lineup
Buko.net a northwest music source
World Wide Words Michael Quinion check out “weird words”
Himalayan Art
Sound Remedies tuning forks to tame brainwaves with “biosonics”.
strange new design ideas no joke.
Art Majeur.com hosting
Helen Mirren as Sofya Tolstoy on MPR.com
Six Unspeakable Bad Films from Good Directors (review) Philly Weekly
Book of Eli reviewedphilly Weekly; Huffington Post; NPR
Should We Fear the E-Book? NPR opinion
full body scanner fails to detect bomb parts Huffington Post
England’s Security Risk “High”
Photographers Protest Over Police Search Powers London 12/23/2010
LABoral: new Mediateca Expandida
Louise Bourgeois; Ernesto Neto; c-monster.net
corporate “personhood” SCOTUS blog; Citizens united decision Huffington Post

Be sure to check out my new “LINKS” page where all these are saved.

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