When the cinema didn't seem enough, Gian Maria Volonté tried to support his values with politics, remaining disappointed. The memory of the dissident actor
Cinema, political activism, theater, spaghetti westerns, but
also ideals to fight for: all this and much more is contained in one name,
that of Gian Maria Volonté, at least as far as the general public has
known him. An actor often considered as one of the best in
cinema not only in Italy, but also internationally, and in this historical
moment it is perhaps even more appropriate to remember him through the films he
starred in, just to let himself be carried away by his way of seeing the world,
typical of those who actively want to change things by doing what
"Being an actor is a question of choice that
arises first of all on an existential level - he
explains one day - or the conservative structures of society are expressed,
and we are content to be a robot in the hands of power, or we turn to the
progressive components of society"
These words make it clear how much Gian Maria Volonté, closely tied to the world of activism and politics since childhood, has ideologically distinguished himself from many of his colleagues who have decided not to expose himself in person and give excellent reasons to celebrate his memory just over 27 years after his death.
Gian Maria Volonté: the beginnings after family problems.
Gian Maria Volonté was born
in Milan on April 9, 1933, and his childhood was not very
simple, as it is easy to imagine given the historical period to which we
refer. Especially because his father, Mario, is a commander of
the black brigades and when Gian Maria is little more than a boy he
is arrested and sentenced for having favored, during the
German occupation, roundups in which some people linked to the
resistance lost their lives.
Gian Maria Volonté's mother, Carolina Bianchi, on
the other hand, belongs to the world of wealthy industrialists in
Milan and tries to address this family crisis by selling part of the
family objects. But it is not enough and so Gian Maria leaves
school to go to work and thus be able to help her. Still as a young
man, however, he also became aware of his love for the theater, which he
approached when he was only 17 years old.
The debut of Gian Maria Volonté in the world of cinema dates back to 1960 and already in 1962, he was the protagonist of A man to burn, a film of social denunciation which, the following year, was followed by Il terrorista, a film in which the Resistance Italian is also shown in its internal contrasts, to the point that its distribution has to contend with some political problems. In short, the actor begins to be a face associated with a genre of film with a strong ethical or social message.
Gian Maria Volonté: the collaboration with Sergio Leone
In 1964 Gian Maria Volonté was chosen by Sergio Leone for the film A Fistful of Dollars, in which he plays the role of Ramón Rojo, a particularly skilled criminal in the use of a rifle. Ability, however, that will not prevent him from having the worst in the famous duel in which Joe , played by Clint Eastwood, challenges him with his gun. The following year the actor returns again to immerse himself in the role of the criminal for Sergio Leone, for the film For a few dollars more, thus becoming, in the second half of the 60s, one of the faces associated with the popular “spaghetti western genre". Will Volonté also take part in other films of this genre, such as Quién sabe? o Face to face, by Sergio Sollima. Despite this, however, he is also chosen for a role very distant from this genre, namely that of Teofilatto dei Leonzi in L'armata Brancaleone (1966), despite an initial reticence on the part of the director Mario Monicelli, who already had for that role thought of Raimondo Vianello.
The working class and political commitment
In the 1970s, in addition to being masterfully starred in Investigation
of a Citizen Above Suspicion, by Elio Petri (winner of the Oscar in
1971 for Best Foreign Film), Gian Maria Volonté returned to devoting
himself to politically engaged cinema and he does so with films such as The
Mattei case, Sacco and Vanzetti and Men against, a film
set in the years of the First World War which emphasizes the senselessness of
war and the arrogance of some military commanders and is therefore considered
one of the films representative of the pacifist movement.
But it is above all with The working class goes to
heaven, that in 1971 Gian Maria Volonté set a milestone in his
artistic career, taking on the role of the worker Ludovico
"Lulù" Massa. An anti- capitalist denunciation, a
film coldly received also by the left, as it clearly showed its
limits and its bourgeoisie, between opportunist trade unionists and students
capable only of shouting slogans.
Convinced that he wanted to pursue his ideals even more, Gian
Maria Volonté also actively devoted himself to politics in the second half
of the 1970s , but ended up abandoning this intention when he
realized the distance between his values and the reality of environment with
which he has to do: “They wanted to make me an official, a
political animal entangled in party politics - he explains once
that decision was made - I needed research, criticism,
democracy. I realized that I was losing my identity and I chose the
relationship with myself ".
After such an intense artistic activity, carried on in the 1980s with
films such as The Death of Mario Ricci (for which he won the
award for best male interpretation at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival)
or Il Case Moro , in the 1990s Gian
Maria Volonté gradually distances himself from the world of cinema, although he
still receives a Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement after taking
part in the film A simple story by Emidio Greco. He also
goes through a period of depression and, also to distance himself
from a cinema capital like Rome, he goes to live in Velletri.
Volonté died in 1994 in Florina, Greece, of a
heart attack, while taking part in the filming of Theo Angelopoulos' The
Gaze of Ulysses. The funeral takes place in Velletri, but the actor
will be buried, following the same wishes as him, in Sardinia, in the
cemetery of La Maddalena. The words of Francesco Rosi, director
and screenwriter with whom Volonté has worked for some of his most precious
films, are significant, which perfectly summarize the essence of the
unforgettable militant actor: "Volontè was, and remains, one
of the greatest actors of cinema world. He has amazing movements that
confirm his richness of expressive means, his depth as an actor". One
of the best descriptions made of him, one of the best ways to remember him.