Thursday, August 18, 2011

Only Claudia Cardinale Can Save Syria

I was visiting a film festival last Saturday and Claudia Cardinale was on stage, being presented with an honorary award for her career. The most beautiful Italian girl in Tunisia of 1957. The object of my desire when I was inhaling film history many years ago when I had afternoons to kill, waiting for my night shift to start. 

The most beautiful girl in Tunisia? To my surprise, as I only found out this past weekend - now more interested in the back story of an artist than in her visual effects - Claudia Cardinale grew up in La Goulette outside Tunis, therefore fluently speaking Arabic.

once upon a time in Tunisia: Claudia Cardinale

Claudia Cardinale played in some of the most important works of cinematography. Fellini's Otto e mezzo, Visconti's Il Gattopardo and Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West, whose opening sequence alone is worth the ticket. Waiting at a train station in Nowhere, waiting for three men to be killed. Even James Bond could never top this.

Il Gattopardo and Once Upon a Time in the West share a similar theme. In both movies, the old times have gone, giving way to a new dawn on the horizon. A new reality is ruling the worlds of Henry Fonda and Burt Lancaster. New movements for freedom and an old thirst for self-determination are defining today's realities of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Ghaddafi and Bashar al-Assad. 

the tears of Syria: Gina Lollobrigida

It took me five viewings of Once Upon until I got to the bottom of things of this chef-d'œuvre. The first time I looked at the pictures (and at Claudia Cardinale, I admit). In a second viewing I listened to the musical score of Ennio Morricone. The third time I started to understand the story line, twisted at it is. The fourth time around, I could see behind the characters, I could see how gunslinger Henry Fonda is a walking fossil in a Wild West now ruled by ruthless business school guys like Morton, himself not a sharp shooter but a sharp thinker. A new set of skills were needed to confront the challenge of these times a-changing. Once I had grasped what story Leone meant to tell, I could develop my own interpretation of the movie, watching it a fifth time. Once Upon a Time in the West is about men and women, and how stupidly men behave to get the attention of an attractive woman. Very basic, very true.

for Gina and for my country: Mustafa Tlass

Other Italian actresses of Claudia Cardinale's generation are Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren, both revered and awarded the world around. Gina Lollobrigida could have prevented the 1982 massacre in Syria's Hama! Mustafa Tlass, for 32 years the defense minister in Hafez al-Assad's regime, was an avowed admirer of "Lollo". Two pictures were hanging on the walls in his office, one depicting his boss Hafez al-Assad, one showing off Gina Lollobrigida. In interviews, Tlass wanted to speak about his devotion to the classy actress rather than talk politics. In a newspaper interview in 1998, the defense minister boasted that he had given the green light to the "resistance" in Lebanon to attack US and French troops, but had spared the Italian contingent because "I dont want a single tear falling from the eyes of Gina Lollobrigida". If only Gina had told Mustafa that she felt some sympathy for the Syrian opposition in Hama. 30'000 lives could have been saved!

Nowadays Lollobrigida is an old lady and Tlass out of office. Being his poster child won't save anybody anymore. The post of defense minister of Syria has become a hot seat lately, with Ali Habib officially leaving office for health reasons one day and declared dead the next day. Sources close to the Assad regime claim that Habib was assassinated by his own kind because he didn't agree with Dr. Bashar and his handling of the protests in Syria, particularly in Hama.

Syriana's choice: Elisabetta Canalis

Claudia Cardinale to the rescue! How about her calling up Habib's successor, Dawud Rajihah, ordering him to stop the war on his own people, because tears are falling from her eyes? How could he resist to Jill McBain from Once Upon a Time in the West, to Angelica Sedara from Il Gattopardo? Claudia Cardinale could even talk to Rajihah in Arabic, with no translator, with no misinterpretation. Well, even CC might be a bit too old to do the trick in 2011, so we need somebody younger. Syriana's George Clooney comes to mind and his Italian fiancée Elisabetta Canalis - too bad she left him some weeks ago while George was busy editing The Tides of March, his new crash course in dirty politics. Is it then too much to ask from Asma al-Assad to do something, anything, to stop the mindless bloodshed, instead of posing for the Vogue magazine? For once, men could do something smart to impress an attractive woman. 

above the people of Syria: Asma al-Assad

I spent a good night at the film festival. I was lucky to spend it in the the same town as Claudia Cardinale. It was not Hama.


  1. You always come up with strange but good reading but what makes you sure she can save syria i think the only person bashar will listen to is iran as you know well i enjoyed reading your blog as always grateful what you do and what you think thank you jason farook

  2. thanks a million for nice comment my friend - of course Iran has a big influence on Assad's decisions. Probably more than his wife. But then again...Yorikirii

  3. I was engaged to an Italian guy many many years ago, whose father was a Sicilian born in Tunisia! Apparently, in the last century, lot's of Sicilians left to find work elsewhere. Belgium was a favourite destination. (I learned Italian from French speaking Italians who had to learn Italian when their families went back-and still speak with a French accent!) And North Africa was another favourite. La Cardinale is much loved by them.