WINNER: TOP 25 LIBERTARIAN FILMS
The rise to power of Soviet socialism corrupts every aspect of life in a Russian city, leaving its occupants with three choices: cynicism, self-destruction, or escape. [ We the Living credits: Dir: Goffredo Alessandrini/ Alida Valli, Rossano Brazzi, Fosco Giachetti/ 174 min/ Drama, Romance, Foreign Language/ Italy/ In Italian with English subtitles/ Anti-Socialism, Ayn Rand, Individualism]
It’s a fitting tribute to the universally antiauthoritarian nature of Ayn Rand’s ideas that this film — first produced in fascist Italy as an attack on communism — was then banned at the angry insistence of the Nazis, who considered it antifascist. Like the Rand novel on which it’s based, it is, of course, an attack on totalitarianism of all stripes.
The film was scripted, directed, and produced without Rand’s knowledge and only later discovered and reedited under her supervision. Nonetheless, except for a slightly happier ending, it’s a faithful adaptation.
As in the novel, the story begins as the Soviets have just taken power in Russia. All property is being nationalized. Food and other essentials are in short supply, and life in general is unhappy and uncertain. At the same time, as socialist aspirations give way to socialist reality, corruption and intimidation are becoming rampant.
In this milieu, a young woman, a university student, is trying to make her way. By chance she meets a mysterious man with whom she falls in love. As it turns out, he’s wanted by the state. Meanwhile, an agent of the state, a GPU man, falls in love with her. It’s the classic love triangle. In the end, the respective choices made by these three central characters represent the only ones open to those living under totalitarian governments: cynicism, self-destruction, or escape.
In many ways, We the Living is a recovered masterpiece of 1940s style cinema; indeed it is considered by some critics in Italy as their equivalent of Gone With the Wind. There is tremendous artistry in every scene, expressed particularly in the subtle use of cinematography and wonderfully haunting music, and every part is played with great sensitivity. The effect is to make events not only understood but to create an atmosphere and mood that makes those events felt as well. It’s a little long by modern standards, but the time is not wasted. This engaging film has a touch of greatness.