The Spider's Stratagem  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Spider's Stratagem (Strategia del ragno) (1970) is a political film directed by Bernardo Bertolucci.

The screenplay was written by Bertolucci, based on the story Theme of the Traitor and the Hero by Jorge Luis Borges.


At the request of his father's mistress, Draifa, Athos Magnani arrives by train in the (fictional) town of Tara, where his father, also named Athos Magnani, was killed before his birth. The father, remembered as a resistance hero and whom his son greatly resembles, was killed by unknown fascists in 1936—or so says Draifa, the statue in the square, and everyone in the town. Draifa contacted Athos after seeing his picture in a newspaper and expects him to solve or avenge his father's murder. He hears that a few days before his father's death, a fortune teller had predicted his death, as in Macbeth, and on his corpse was an unopened letter warning him not to go ahead, as in Julius Caesar.

His enquiries about his father's death are met with evasion or hostility. Eventually three acquaintances of his father tell him that he planned to blow up Benito Mussolini in the local theatre, during a performance of Rigoletto. The plot failed and his father died after being betrayed to the police. Athos does not believe this tale.

Unsure whether to stay in this claustrophobic town where the truth is never told, he hears the sound of Rigoletto coming from the theatre. Entering, he is told that his father failed to carry out the bombing out of fear, and himself tipped off the police. For this, his fellow conspirators killed him, with his agreement, and ascribed the death to unknown fascists.

At a ceremony in front of his father's statue, Athos starts to tell this story but stops. Whether it was through betrayal or cowardice that his father had become a hero, the town needs its myth. Resolving to leave, at the railway station he hears announcements that trains are increasingly late and, looking at the tracks, sees they are rusted and overgrown. He, too, is caught in the web.


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