Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Adventurers

The Adventurers posterThe Adventurers is a sprawling (and frankly turgid) three-hour epic detailing the life and times of one "Dax Xenos." We meet young Dax as a young child playing with a dog in idyllic countryside that, we are informed, is the country of "Corteguay, South America" in 1945. The next we know, however, a bullet comes whistling from a nearby hill, the dog has been shot dead, and Dax is running for his life back to the hacienda. So much for childhood innocence.

Corteguay, you see, is caught up in a revolutionary insurrection supported by Dax's father, an otherwise peacable lawyer. But the forces of officialdom, in the person of a Colonel Gutiérrez, are busy conducting reprisals, which involve killing most of Dax's family, having raped the womenfolk, before Dax's wide eyes. The child is infused with the spirit of revenge, as well a certain cynicism towards sexual relations. He eagerly takes the chance to machine-gun some of Gutiérrez's men responsible for the outrage. And later a brief juvenile romance with the revolutionary leader's daughter is somewhat dowsed in cold water when the two watch surreptitiously as two adults cavort naked in the countryside and, in response to the girl's question "What are they doing?" the boy replies "I suppose he's raping her." "Raping?" "He rapes her and she rapes him." "Let's do it," suggests his playmate. "No," Dax sternly replies. "You are too young. And I think I have to kill you afterwards."

For all that the movie may have set out to offer a critique of such cynicism, in fact it never really shakes off the impression that first bad things happen, and then later they happen again. That's just the South American way.

So the revolutionary leader General Rojo naturally enough becomes as tyrannical, or perhaps more so, than the leader he has overthrown. He is more concerned to build opulent palaces than to feed the poor, and he callously sacrifices his former friends on the altar of his own in ambition. In turn he therefore ultimately faces a guerrilla uprising, in which the now adult Dax participates. Almost at the end of the movie, the new young Turk invades the country's radio station and broadcasts to the nation the news that "Corteguay belongs to the Revolution." At which General Rojo, listening to this message in his now ruined throne-room, mutters to himself that "Corteguay will always belong to the Revolution."

In between these opening and closing vignettes of recurrent and inevitable violence, we follow Dax as he grows up far from his native land, in opulent Italy. Here he cavorts with the aristocracy, beds a succession of beautiful rich young women (including for a while as a paid gigolo), and hones his sullen, inexpressive persona. "He just does not feel," as another character says of our unlikeable hero. This, however, is not quite true: Dax is hot on feelings of revenge and (quite possibly also self-)hatred. He's simply less adept at the tenderer side of life.

Europe is little better than Latin America in the movie's cynical portrayal: admittedly, there is are rather fewer massacres or political assassinations, but all the luxury and wealth in the world hardly conceals the coldness of ritual debauchery in which people are either objects for brief sensual gratification or pawns for ambition's advancement. The only likeable character throughout is the Xenos family's faithful old retainer, a buffoon-like figure with the ironic nickname "Fat Cat." He's fat, but not from the profits of aristocratic hauteur, commercial double-dealing, or absolute power. He's the endless second fiddle, the closest thing that Dax has to a conscience.

Perhaps, as the 1960s came to an end, the world really did look as miserable as this film (released in 1970) makes it out to be: superannuated decadence in Europe, superficial gaiety in the USA, and permanent unrest in the periphery. "Dax" may sound like a brand of soap powder, but through him we see only the grubby underbelly of global so-called civilization, and no sense that anything is about to change. Disillusion is all.

Labels: ,