You have to be in the mood for a talky movie – all dialogue and little action, especially if you are watching a movie in another language (action helps you understand what’s going on when you don’t understand the words). I’m a huge fan of My Dinner With Andre, and that’s just two guys having dinner together and their conversation at a restaurant table. It’s all talk, but it’s still a wild ride – I could watch it over and over and I think about it all the time.
I wasn’t quite so taken with Jo Baier’s La Fine È Il Mio Inizio (The end is my beginning).
And maybe that’s not fair; maybe I’ve compared it to the rapid fire and intense conversation between Wally and Andre, whose animated exchange about philosophy and, well, everything keeps you at the edge of your seat. The favorite line that comes to mind is when Andre says, “Things don’t affect people the way they used to. I mean it may very well be that 10 years from now people will pay $10,000 in cash to be castrated just in order to be affected by something.” No lines like that in La Fine È Il Mio Inizio – at least none I picked up on with my highly flawed Italian. But while Andre tells Wally about workshops he participated with out in the woods with naked people pretending they were corpses (you really should watch My Dinner With Andre), La Fine È Il Mio Inizio, while not quite as shocking, tells a pretty amazing – and true – story.
Tiziano Terzani was an Italian foreign correspondent that died from cancer in 2004 and La Fine È Il Mio Inizio is the story of the end of his life. Knowing that he is near death, he calls his son, who has been living in New York, home, and through their last conversations, he recalls and recounts his experiences as a journalist, and his evolution as a writer and a person over the years.
Interested mostly in Asia, Terzani studied Chinese at Columbia University in New York and then worked as a correspondent in Vietnam, Peking, Tokyo, Bangkok and New Delhi, giving a lifetime of reporting to the Hamburg magazine, Der Spiegel and eventually becoming one of its directors. In Vietnam, covering the last years of the war, he refused to leave as the Vietcong closed in on Saigon, and stayed for months, unable to break cover and write a line but observing the revolution with great sympathy. Two best-selling books emerged from the experience, a “Vietnam diary”, Pelle di leopardo (“Skin of the Leopard”, 1973), and Giai Phong! (1976), about the liberation of Saigon. He’d been criticized for being sympathetic to the Vietcong and showing a little too much enthusiasm for Maoism (he moved his family to China and put his kids in Chinese schools), but as we see in the movie, he changed his mind and realized that communist China was not the utopia that he’d imagined.
I think that this story is fascinating, but probably better suited for a book than a movie. The dialogue is very interesting, but the movie is slow and not especially engaging. The actors do a great job – Bruno Ganz plays Terzani and Elio Germano plays his son Folco. There is so much that is right about this movie; it’s excellent, but it’s not for everybody.
Available on DVD (PAL zone 2) in German or Italian and with Italian, German and English subtitles.
La Fine È Il Mio Inizio -The End Is My Beginning (2010)
Das Ende ist mein Anfang (original title)
Director: Jo Baier
Writers: Folco Terzani (screenplay), Ulrich Limmer (screenplay)
Stars: Bruno Ganz, Elio Germano and Erika Pluhar