Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lion of the Desert

Last night's film was "Lion of the Desert", the 1981 epic about the Arab Bedouin struggle against Italian rule in Libya in the early 1930s, starring Rod Steiger (as Il Duce!) and Anthony Quinn (as an Arab! I guess Mexicans can play Arabs pretty well). The film was a financial flop (earning maybe one eightieth of its budget) largely because it was financed by Quadaffi and we had an embargo against him at the time. But it was a pretty high quality film, with terrific performances, cinematography and great set-piece battles.

Of course, it made the Italians the bad guys--though I am a bit of a pro-colonialist myself, since frankly even the oppression of a conqueror can bring law and order, schools, roads, and hospitals and the warring desert tribes were no picnic of democracy either. Some decades of colonial power can midwife a backward country into independence where they have an educated class, experience with democracy and rule of law (usually), and some infrastructure. Interestingly, the film did present this argument from the Italians' point of view, not to mention the historical claims to the land (the Romans being there long before the Arabs--of course, perhaps the makers of the film wanted to compare the current Jewish claims on Israeli land to the Italian Fascist claims, hoping to draw a parallel and indicate that both claims are illegitimate).

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