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La Cecilia
A film by Jean-Louis Comolli
Article published on 26 March 2004
last modification on 27 March 2004
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Italy-France, 1975.

Color, 113 mins.

Scenario by Jean-Louis Comolli, Marianne di Vertimo, Eduardo de Gregorio.

Cinematography by Yan Lr Masson.

Editing by Claudio Biondo.

Sound by Tonino Testa.

Original Music by Michel Portal.

Produced by Fanny Berchauz, Claude Nedjar, Hubert Niogret.

Production company: Filmoblic, Sava Cinematografica.

Cast: Maria Carta, Vittorio Mezzogiorno, Giancarlo Panesse, Gianni Pelligra, Massimo Foschi.

In Italian and Portuguese with English subtitles.

Jean-Louis Comolli has the wonderful talent of being able to describe as objectively as humanly possible delicate situations of conflict that make his characters believable and captivating. Each one of them possesses a crucial portion of truth, and we are free to accept or reject their conclusions or proposals. La Cecilia is an historical fact, a microcosm containing myriad possible variations on the theme of anarchism.

A small group of Italian anarchists goes to the State of Parana in Brazil to take advantage of an offer that could be out of a fairy tale: Pedro II (a real-life emperor) is known mostly for having promoted the emancipation of slaves. He is a believer in science and harmony, a man enamored of his country, and who knows that it could become paradise on earth for whoever is capable of extracting its riches from the fertile soil. The anarchists want to cultivate the land organically and rationally ( Giovanni Rossi is an agronomist), but they lack practical sense. They need seeds and tools, but the local merchant applies prices that he knows they will not be able to pay. Thus, some of the anarchists are forced to work for private enterprises in order to generate cash to help the survival of the group. The commune members, hating barriers, don’t anticipate that their corn will be destroyed by wild boars gaining free entrance because of the lack of fences. To complicate things a little more, with the advent of the Republic, their "property" is no longer protected by the king (Would you ask a monarch for a property deed?), and the new authorities want them to pay taxes. More people come to live at La Cecilia, and suddenly there is a school for children, theatrical representations, songs and games. But conflicts also develop. Back home, certain anarchist newspapers criticize their experiment in communal living and accuse them of having deserted the struggle at the very moment when unions are being organized on the peninsula.

The film ends on a sad note: The Brazilian government wants to enlist them for military service and gives them an ultimatum. If they do not comply, they will be treated as deserters and traitors. Is Comolli trying to show us the impossibility of living anarchistically within a bourgeois society? He practices the maieutic method: He poses the right questions, and it is up to the public to find the answers. The pessimists will mention the fallacies of Israeli kibbutzim (openly supported but also widely criticized by some Jewish anarchists), and the optimists will quote the example of the long existence of the almost 50-year-old Comunidad del Sur in Uruguay (surviving military dictatorship and Scandinavian exile).

Pietro Ferrua

See also Pietro Ferrua’s comment upon O PÃO NEGRO. UM EPISÓDIO DA COLÔNIA CECÍLIA. A film by Valêncio XAVIER


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