Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Assassination of Trotsky

The Assassination of Trotsky posterWhat is known about Trotsky's assassination is shown in 1972's The Assassination of Trotsky, and what isn't known isn't shown. This makes for a film in which the combination of certainties and ambiguities create an eerie, mysterious atmosphere. It begins in May 1940 in Mexico City, where Leon Trotsky, the Russian revolutionary leader exiled from the Soviet Union by Joseph Stalin, lives in a protected compound with his family and close supporters. These include his beloved wife Natasha, his grandson Seva, a few Russian and French Communists, and a handful of American guards. It is May Day, and demonstrations fill the streets of the D.F. Workers' unions hold banners and sing Mexican revolutionary songs, and the Communist Party of Mexico holds Marxist speeches. But there is a division among the pro-communist crowd; some chant in support of Trotsky, while others call him a traitor to Communism. This leads to a number of fights and riots in the busy streets. Among the hustle and bustle is Gita Samuels, with her boyfriend Frank Jacson. Gita is a Communist who works for Trotsky, and Frank is an importer-exporter from Belgium. Frank is a secret, shy man, much to the frustration of Gita. In the next scene, Frank meets with a mysterious Mexican man named Salazar, and it is revealed that Frank is dating Gita to get to Trotsky. Exactly what purpose this has is implicit.

That night will be the first attempt on Trotsky's life. A large chest filled with fake police uniforms and guns arrives at a building where a painter, who turns out to be part of the Mexican Communist Party, paints revolutionary murals on the walls. A large group of Mexican men show up, put on the uniforms, take the guns, and embark in mysterious cars to Trotsky's compound. They are let in silently by a guard named Sheldon, an accomplice who has gained Trotsky's trust, and open fire on Trotsky's bedroom, riddling it with bullets before disappearing into their cars and driving away. As the inhabitants of the compound emerge, bewildered, from their rooms, they find Trotsky and his wife Natasha still alive, having jumped under the bed just in time. He knows that Joseph Stalin is behind it all. After the attempt, new security measures are undertaken and the compound's walls and security system are reinforced. The following day, a scene shows Salazar informing Frank Jacson of the attempt's failure. A few months pass. In these months, Salazar and Frank meet a few times and talk about Frank getting into the compound. A scene shows a police investigation of the Mexican Stalinist mural-painter, who denies his actions in May's assassination attempt. Frank Jacson and Gita go to a bullfight, which deeply upsets Gita and results in a big fight in which she tells Frank she doesn't know who he is. They have numerous other fights because of Frank's introverted ways and his capitalism, but on a good day Frank manages to get an invitation into Trotsky's compound, which he declines. Eventually, he briefly visits Trotsky. Trotsky inquires about Frank's capitalist political leanings, but Frank refuses to discuss politics.

In the following scene, Frank is wandering around a junkyard and finds an ice-pick among the other things, which he takes. The next time he visits Trotsky, Trotsky is sleeping and so Frank sits down to talk with Natasha. In the conversation, it is revealed that Frank lived in Paris at the same time that the Trotskys' son was murdered there. Trotsky wakes up and reads Frank's article. As he critiques it, Frank stands nervously behind Trotsky, trying to get up the nerve to kill him. He is unable to do so, and leaves, disturbed. A few days later, Frank and Gita are in Frank's apartment, and Frank is having one of his bouts of silence, which causes Gita to scream and cry. Frank starts to pack his suitcase, and Gita tells him she will kill himself if he leaves. He tries to reassure her. Frank goes to see Trotsky with the "revised" version of his article. As Trotsky reads it at his desk, Frank stands behind him and takes the ice-pick from his coat. He hits Trotsky on the top of his head, and Trotsky begins to scream, blood pouring down his face. The members of Trotsky's household rush up to the room, yelling. The guards descend upon the stunned Frank Jacson and wrestle him to the ground. Frank begins to scream as well, "My mother....My father...", as he is dragged out by the guards. Trotsky is taken to the hospital, where he dies slowly. Before dying, he insists that Jackson not be killed, because he must reveal who is behind the assassination. The final scene shows Jacson hunched in the corner of a holding cell, being questioned. The interrogator asks him, "Who are you?", and Jacson answers, "I killed Trotsky".

General Lazaro Cardenas's administration was the only government in the world to grant Trotsky asylum in the final years of his life. But the film shows that Mexico is no asylum for Trotsky; Mexican Stalinists funded by the KGB and KGB agents are everywhere, a constant presence. Numerous scenes show unidentified men in the streets, observing, nodding at each other, watching. Trotsky's own guards cannot be trusted. The only safe place is Trotsky's compound. Outside the compound, the sky is shown as gray, the city white, gray and red; inside the compound, the sun shines on the green grass and Trotsky's beautiful pet rabbits. Outside is project housing, empty lots and walls covered with violent murals; inside are visitors and friends drinking tea and engaging in intellectual conversation. The Mexicans in the film are either Stalinists, useless and suspicious policemen, or bystanders with hard faces. When Gita and Frank go to a bullfight, the brutal long-winded killing of the bull is shown in great detail; while Gita is horrified, the huge crowd of Mexicans filling the stands are engrossed with the bull's suffering, grins on their faces. Mexico joins the rest of the world as a hostile environment for Trotsky.

There is pervasive atmosphere of controlled violence in Mexico, like the revolutionary murals of Diego and Crozco which are the backdrop of many scenes. Crowds are ready to lash out at each other at the slightest provocation. The spirit of revolution fills the streets, the tension of Communism combined with the remaining tension of the revolution of 30 years earlier. This violence possesses Frank Jacson, whose long silences and explosive rages epitomize it, a violence that comes to a point at the tip of the ice-pick that kills Trotsky.