The Spider's Stratagem

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The Spider's Stratagem
The Spider's Stratagem.jpg
Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
Produced by Giovanni Bertolucci
Written by Bernardo Bertolucci
Marilù Parolini
Edoardo De Gregorio
Jorge Luis Borges
Starring Giulio Brogi
Alida Valli
Music by Giuseppe Verdi from Aida and Rigoletto
Cinematography Vittorio Storaro
Edited by Roberto Perpignani
Release date
August 1970, Italy
5 January 1973 (USA)
Running time
100 minutes
Country Italy
Language Italian

The Spider's Stratagem (Italian: 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.


Athos Magnani arrives by train, at the request of his father's mistress, Draifa, 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 looking exactly like his son, was killed by unknown fascists in 1936—or so says Draifa, the statue in the square, and everyone in the town.

His enquiries meet with evasion or hostility. Eventually three old acquaintances of his father tell him his father planned to blow up Benito Mussolini in the town theatre, during a performance of Rigoletto. The plot failed; the assassin died after being betrayed to the police. Young Athos does not believe this tale either.

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 go through with the bombing out of fear, and himself tipped off the police. For this his associates killed him, with his agreement, and ascribed the death to unknown fascists. A few days earlier a fortune teller had predicted his death, as in Macbeth, and on his corpse was an unread letter warning him not to go ahead, as in Julius Caesar.

At a ceremony in front of his father's statue, Athos starts to tell this story but stops. Though it was through cowardice and betrayal that his father had made himself into 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, he sees they are rusted and overgrown. He too is caught in the web.


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