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Hard to believe but Italian film director’s suicide stirs parliamentary controversy PDF Print E-mail
Dec 04, 2010 at 07:15 PM

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Mario Monicelli Venice Film Festiva 2009
If there were a heaven, there is no doubt in my mind that film director Mario Monicelli, who committed suicide Monday at the age of 95, would either be very pissed off or convulsed with laughter - or both.. And he'd probably be writing a new screenplay to poke fun at this very silly country, and its even sillier parliament which for some bizarre reason reacted to Monicelli's death by arguing about euthanasia, which in this case is totally irrelevant.

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from L'Armata Brancaleone

Here's the story. Monicelli, who among his more than 60 films can count absolute bittersweet and often funny classics such as Riso Amaro, Amici Miei, I soliti Ignoti, La Grande Guerra, Il Marchese del Grillo, Guardie e Ladri e Un Borghese Piccolo Piccolo, as well as my absolute favourite (it's the closest thing Italy has to a Monty Python film and I have to see it at least once a year!) L ‘Ármata Brancaleone, had recently learned that he had terminal prostate cancer.

Mind you, he had arrived at the venerable age of 95 in a remarkable state. As anyone who knew him could tell you (and this also could be seen by the interviews he gave) he was 100 percent lucid, just not very happy about the state of the Italian film industry -- or of the country in which he had lived all his life.

On Monday night, without a word to anyone or even a note to his wife or daughter with whom he was not currently living*, Monicelli jumped out of a 5th floor window at the hospital to which he had checked in for treatment. Most people who knew him seem to agree: a strong-willed man and an atheist, he probably simply had decided there was no point in sticking around for a few years of chemo and gradual deterioration. His will made it clear that unlike many other people here he would stick to his guns even after his demise: no mass, no funeral, and a totally private cremation.

From my own personal point of view, it is a story that shows the strong need for legislation, everywhere, that in certain circumstances, allows assisted suicide. Think how much better it would have been for him if he had had the option just to drink something rather than to do such violence to himself as leaping from a deadly height. But he must have felt that was his only choice.

For two days, however, conservatives and liberals in parliament greeted Monicelli's death not by bemoaning the loss of a man some people feel was Italy's greatest postwar filmmaker (sorry, Federico, sorry Roberto, sorry Bernardo etc.etc. etc.) by bickering violently about euthanasia, although in this case it hardly applies.

Possibly the reaction of the legislature was partly an indication that Italy has still not gotten over the wounds caused by two high-profile euthanasia cases in recent years - a nearly totally paralyzed man with Lou Gherig's disease who after years of suffering finally, in 2006, found a doctor courageous enough to unhook his respirator at his request, and a 37-year old woman, in a coma for 17 years, whose father had battled for years to have her feeding tube removed, something which he was finally able to do - with court approval - only in February 2009 because reactions by the Italian political right - largely in sway to the Italian church - weighed in on the issue, delaying the woman's end for several more weeks and creating even greater anxiety for her family. (Interestingly enough, all the public opinion polls that were taken at the time, were in favour of allowing both of the above-mentioned people to die.)

But Monicelli's situation was completely different and to my mind he had every right to end his life and, as Giorgio Napolitano, the President of Italy and an old friend of Monicelli's, his decision should be respected. Too bad he couldn't make a film about the way many people reacted to his death. For me, too, it was shocking. But mostly because one had come to think of him as immortal and instead he is gone, just as the rest of us will be some day.

By the way, for those of you who are not familiar with Monicelli, you should know that most of his films starred major Italian tragi/comediens such as Alberto Sordi, Vittorio Gassman, Totò, Marcello Mastroianni, Ugo Tognazzi and Enrico Maria Salerno, all of whom - too - are no longer with us. He was a master at depicting the Italian social cosmos and though he often didn't like what he saw, he found a way to laugh about it, and make us boisterously chime in.

*Somewhere on the internet I found a clip from one of his last interviews that explained why, at the age of 92, he had gone to live on his own. I thought it amazing. What he said was this.

«If you want to live as long as possible, keep in mind that the love of women - relatives, daughters, wives, mistresses - is extremely dangerous. Women, in their very souls, are nurses. And if a woman has an old man near her she is always ready to respond to his every wish, to run and bring him whatever he needs. In this way, little by little, this old man no longer does anything for himself, He sits there in his armchair, he doesn't move, and little by little he becomes a senile old man. If, on the other hand, this old man is forced to take care of himself, to make his bed, to go outdoors, to light the stove then, even if he occasionally burns himself, you can bet that he will have an additional ten years to of life to live".

 

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