The Assassination of Trotsky (Joseph Losey / United Kingdom-France-Italy, 1972):

Lugubrious doddering or autumnal auteurist statement? Let the Michael Medveds of the world hail Joseph Losey's cannily disagreeable film-maudit as all-time turkey, unable to spot an entrapping danse macabre if it bit them in the ass -- a director's portrayal of intellectual impotence is best left for less facile scanning. Richard Burton plays the title's aged firebrand, holed up in a barricaded garden as fervid crowds swirl through 1940 Mexico City, feeding bunnies and dodging raids but mostly quoting his own Red Army orations, played back, Godard-style, as disembodied punctuation over circumscribed images. Dictating into his recorder, Burton's Trotsky is dryly contemplated as a graying lion drained of his practical relevance even while insisting on his role as a "fighter," the camera's languid arc around him landing on the bull's-eye spot in the back of his noggin. Vulnerability marks the meeting place between Trotsky's brain and the pick-ax of shadowy slayer Alain Delon, busy with another ritualistic blood sport, chiding girlfriend Romy Schneider (his launch into the Great Man's orbit) for flinching at a blood-splattered bullfight. Hair slicked back and black circular shades glued on face, Delon's brooder is very much angel-of-deathish, as confused in his identity as his redoubtable prey is embalmed in his; for all the movie's mirrors, the most important reflection is subjective, the killer staring into the water during a boat ride to find Stalin's image materialized. Already braided by history, the two trajectories shun suspense, though the matter of "depoliticization" is more complex -- both murderer and lamb pale next to the proletarian vitality of the Orozco-Rivera murals around them, yet Delon's freeze-framed "I killed Trotsky" remains a psychological assertion as much as a political statement. To Losey, ultimately no action can be divorced from its social reverberations, the systems within systems that form a society's skeleton. Screenplay by Nicholas Mosley. With Valentina Cortese.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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