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Be Like Gian Maria Volonté

Moses Middleton, the young hero of Pushing Pawns, has heroes of his own, among whom is the legendary Italian actor Gian Maria Volonté. Moses discovers Gian Maria via Spaghetti Westerns on YouTube, but soon digs deeper to discover the actor's more serious roles.



Eventually Mose adopts as his lodestar the description of Volonté delivered by Giuliano Montaldo at his memorial service: “Non aveva paura di niente, ha osato tutto." He feared nothing; he dared everything.


The leading Italian actor of his day, and perhaps of all time, Volonté was also a major Communist activist who used his stardom as a platform to campaign against the Vietnam War and the fascist coup in Chile. As Moses discovers, he smuggled a political prisoner out of Italy on his sailboat, threw himself into radical street theater, and endeavored to choose his movie roles as an expression of political commitment.


Early in his career, while struggling to pay rent and alimony, Volonté appeared in two of the most famous Sergio Leone Westerns, A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965). Although these performances were somewhat marred by post-production dubbing, he was an electrifying presence:



As for Volonté's more serious roles, it is impossible to convey an impression of his artistry with any one film. His capacity for bringing vastly different characters to life, unforgettably, was unmatched in the history of cinema. Here, for example, he plays the fascist police chief in Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1969):



And here is his riveting performance as a worker on the verge of breakdown in The Working Class Goes to Heaven (1971):



He was also capable of great subtlety, as here in A Ciascuno Il Suo/We Still Kill the Old Way (1967), where he plays a doomed innocent who runs afoul of the Mafia in a Sicilian town:



I could go on, as Volonté's filmography is more or less coextensive with the best of Italian cinema during the 60s, 70s, and later. Instead I would encourage you to explore further, just like chess-mad Moses Middleton. You won't be sorry.

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