Socrates (Roberto Rossellini / Italy-France-Spain, 1971):

The unyielding artist, his beliefs and enemies. Athens is the toga-wrapped brain, Sparta the shield-and-sword brawn; imposing walls are torn down at the beginning, is this "a new era" or postwar Berlin redux? Socrates (Jean Sylvère) ambles through with entourage and defuses a potential showdown via the humbleness of lucidity: "I know I know nothing." Roberto Rossellini has painted temples at his disposal yet pauses to register sandal marks left on the ground, the dirt under Athenian marble -- it takes a great questioner to study another ("the only joy is the search for the truth"). There are extended debates and procedural views of the cradle of democracy as ballots are cast into a pot and fished out by a blindfolded youth. The shooting is marked by dignity and discretion (and also a pinch of Corman's airiness in Atlas), a modernist score overtakes the harps for the occasional foreboding note. Socrates' open-air trail for "corrupting the young" hinges on a filibustering close-up that reveals this as the great, trenchant political work it is, with bits of The Apology and Crito passing before the camera before zoom and dissolve. Rossellini's exchange of Socrates' gayness for a tantrum-throwing wife (Anne Caprile) is an element that, like the vanishing lesbians in Wyler's These Three, nevertheless remains submerged in the character's disposition as an outsider. The philosopher deems himself a midwife of ideas, yet he seems to contribute to the growing age of pedantry as much as dispute it; Socrates' cave is Louis XIV's chamber and Blaise Pascal's dark bedroom, he gulps down poison and takes solace in knowledge. "How are you so calm with death so near?" "I reason." Osborne's Luther is a variant, Snyder's 300 its antithesis. With Ricardo Palacios, Giuseppe Mannajuolo, Antonio Medina, and Julio Morales.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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