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QUEIMADA / BURN! (1969,ITA) – 10/10

Gill Pontecorvo is probably best remembered today for the famous docu-drama “The Battle of Algiers”, which won the Oscar for the best foreign film, and brought him nominations for the best director and the best screenplay. Although he had previously filmed the holocaust drama “Kapo”, which was also nominated for an Oscar for the best foreign film, after “The Battle of Algiers” Pontecorvo got the opportunity to shoot his most ambitious film, a grandiose historical drama about a slave revolt on an island in the Caribbean in the middle 19th century. So even though the island of Queimada, as this great film is called in the original, does not exist and the story is fictional, it is one of the best depictions of colonialism and what the emergence of states and nations in Central America looked like.

The year is 1844 and the British Navy sent secret agent William Walker (Marlon Brando) to the island of Queimadu (which could be translated as burnt island) in the Lesser Antilles. Queimada is a Portuguese colony and is extremely important because there are large plantations of sugar cane and it is the main place of Portuguese sugar production and trade. Walker’s task there is to cause a slave rebellion against the Portuguese colonizers, and soon he will find a young slave named Jose Dolores who seems to him to be the perfect choice for the leader of the African slaves. Little by little, with the tactics of an experienced agent provocateur who is a master at his job, the rebellion will start, a real civil war will occur on the island and the rebels will drive away the Portuguese colonizers.

Those for independence will be elected, a new government will be elected, yesterday’s slaves will nominally become free, although they will continue to do practically the same work on the same plantations that will get new owners. Those new owners will become the British royal sugar company, and in fact that was Walker’s goal from the beginning. Although Queimada will nominally be an independent and independent state, the British company will put its own people at the head of the country, and they will give the British all the land on the island in a concession for a hundred years, thus becoming the new owners. After the successful completion of the job, Walker will return to England, but very soon the former slaves will realize not only that nothing has changed there, but that the situation has become even worse for them.

Jose Dolores will once again incite the rebellion of the former slaves, the miserable and hungry blacks who make up the vast majority of the island’s population. When the situation becomes dangerous and starts to spiral out of control in a few years, Walker will be given a new assignment and will once again return to Queimada to help put down the rebellion. And although both the story and the characters are fictional, Pontecorvo made perhaps the best film ever about colonialism and how it was actually a game between great powers. What did these incitement of slaves to rebellions look like, solely due to economic interests, and how the English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and probably other countries that had colonies, corruptly and treacherously plundered and worked against each other, without getting involved in direct wars.

All these were in fact the games of the great powers and Pontecorvo made a film that hits the very core and unsurpassedly shows the way the capitalist system worked, and to a large extent still works today. Walker is a true capitalist here, a man who will do whatever he is asked and paid to do even though he is well aware of the consequences for the people he pretends to lead. Although the methods and tactics are somewhat different today, the principle of functioning is still very similar and the whole world is a big chess board of great powers that may have changed since that time, but everything is very similar.

About a hundred years after America, practically everything was the same in Africa, where all these countries nominally gained independence, but they are still largely under the influence of various forces and exist solely to extract profit from them. Rebellions are fomented, civil wars are sparked to harm or protect interests, and large companies or individuals own virtually all resources while poor people starve to death or in rubber boats trying to reach Europe. Once again, Pontecorvo decided to apply a neorealist approach and everything here seems so realistic, authentic, real. Along with Brando and a few other professionals, he hired naturals for most of the roles, and we have thousands of extras, and it works from the first scene to the last in a grandiose, sensational way.

There were a lot of problems during the filming, breaking the budget, because of which United Artists almost fired the perfectionist Pontecorvo. However, Brando, perhaps the greatest actor of all time, rebelled against this, and because of his role in this film, he turned down roles in many other films, and later wrote in his autobiography that Pontecorvo, along with Elia Kazan and Bernardo Bertolucci, was the best director he worked with. the radio. He pointed out that his acting in “Burn!” considered one of the best in general and Brando is truly masterful even though his, like all the other actors’ voices, was dubbed into the Italian language in which the film appeared on the market. We must not forget to mention the standard outstanding score by the great Ennio Morricone.