Finished reading Stefan Zweig’s CONFUSION last night. It’s a title that never cropped up in those days when I tried to read every novel I could find on the subject of homosexuality, perhaps because the author himself was heterosexual, or maybe because it was written in German. Yet, it is surprising that a novella on the subject, from 1927, by one of the most popular and important authors of the day, simply didn’t figure, at least in my particular context.
Zweig has a particular style, one as distinct as a 40s melodrama and as easy to parody as the Queen Mother’s thank you letters. It’s easy to reject but very beautiful and powerful if one lets oneself be taken over by it.
In CONFUSION and old professor at the end of his career looks over his Fettschrift and notes that it covers even the most minor aspect of his bibliography but bears no trace of the most important person in his life. As a young man he happened upon a lecture on English Literature that so enraptured him that it changed his life. He fell in love with the lecturer’s mind, gave over his life to helping him put those thoughts on paper, and was vulnerable to the older man’s every word and gesture, seeking approval. The confusion arises because the older man is interested in more than the young man’s mind. This finally comes to a head, when after a series of events, the young man sleeps with the older man’s wife and is so ashamed he gets ready to leave. Before he leaves however, the older man gives him an explanation for all the mixed signals and what they signified.
Near the end Zweig offers a dramatic condensation of all the ways homosexuals were oppressed in the period: blackmail, police raids, furtive and dangerous assignations etc. There’s a class bias in those views of sailors and workmen, but it remains sympathetic and powerful. And the last line, where the once young man, now a distinguished and retired professor, looks happily over his career, his life, his wife and children but notes of the older man, ‘I have never loved anyone more,’ is to me incredible in a novel from 1927.
Many thanks to Dan Callahan for bringing it to my attention.
Playwright and filmmaker Martin McDonagh, best known in cinema for his breakthrough comedy-drama In Bruges and, most recently, the critical and financial success of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, on which we podcastedtwice, reunites with the stars of the former for an exploration of a male friendship, its dissolution, and the subsequent fallout.
The Banshees of Inisherin offers something of a chamber play: it might not be set in a single room, but the titular island of Inisherin is isolated, barely populated, and promises little by way of escape or a future. Brendan Gleeson’s Colm begins to feel this keenly, and abruptly declares his hitherto long friendship with Colin Farrell’s Pádraic over, intending to devote his life to his music. We discuss how depression might play into his actions, the role of the island in inhibiting ambition, the difficulty an intelligent actor has in playing dumb, the balance of comedy with drama in comparison with McDonagh’s other films, the peculiar masculinity of the way the breakup plays out, how the story might be seen as a modern myth, and how convincing the sense of place is.
There’s a lot to admire about The Banshees of Inisherin, which is arguably McDonagh’s best film, and (equally arguably) his least flawed – which sounds like damning with faint praise for a filmmaker whose work is typically interesting and novel, admittedly, but those flaws have sometimes cast large shadows over otherwise wonderful work (looking at you, Three Billboards). Here, such issues are easier to accept, and it’s consequently easier to enjoy the film’s achievements. In short – see The Banshees of Inisherin.
Ilaria Puliti holds an MA (with distinction) in Film and Television Studies (University of Warwick), an MA (with distinction) in Teaching Italian to Foreigners (University of Urbino, IT), an MA in Intercultural Business Communication (University of Urbino) and a BA in Asian Languages and Cultures (University of Rome ‘La Sapienza’). She is currently researching Rural Modernities: the Politics and Aesthetics of Extra-Urban Experiences in Italian Cinema.
What follows is an extended conversation with Ilaria on Luca (Enrico Casarosa), focussing on how it lends itself to readings of queerness and of migration, and also relating the film’s world to postwar Italian culture and society. You can listen to it below:
…or watch/listen to us in what is my very first vodcast below: