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Love, politics and Ayn Rand - A review of "We the Living", by Cathy Young
Forbes, United States Thursday, February 25, 2010

The ideas of Ayn Rand, the Russian-born American philosopher-novelist are enjoyinga revival as of the present happenings which resembles her warning of creeping socialism. Recently, a DVD of an adaptation of her We The Living was released. The movie was wonderfully made, and the casting of Kira and Leo were perfect, though the one of Andrei was problematic. The DVD has a pro-freedom message, writes Cathy Young in Forbes.

Ayn Rand, the Russian-born American philosopher-novelist and crusader for capitalism, has been enjoying something of a revival, due partly to the belief that her warnings of creeping socialism are coming true under the Obama Administration. Those interested in Rand's oeuvre should take note of the recent DVD release of We the Living, a film adaptation of her first novel, by the same title. But this movie should also appeal to those who love old films and rare finds from film history.

We the Living, a 1942 Italian production, comes from the age of Mussolini when it straddled the fence between propaganda and dissent, and features appearances by two charismatic young actors who later moved on to international stardom.


Published in 1936, We the Living takes place in Rand's native Russia in the 1920s. The heroine, young, strong-willed Kira Argounova, struggles to survive under a regime that treats her as a social undesirable: the daughter of a former factory owner and a staunch anti-Communist. Her dreams of being an engineer and sharing her life with the man she loves, ex-aristocrat Leo Kovalensky, are relentlessly shattered by the Soviet state. Her suspect background gets her purged from the university, and the once-proud Leo is eventually reduced to a bitter, self-loathing cynic who sees Kira's love as a burden.

Along the way, Kira finds herself entangled with dedicated Communist and GPU (secret police) officer Andrei Taganov, who falls in love with her and whose love she pretends to return in order to save Leo's life when he desperately needs treatment for tuberculosis and no state clinic will give him a place. By the end Andrei has come to understand Kira's (and Rand's) truth: No cause that quashes freedom and sacrifices the individual to the collective good can be truly noble.


In 1942 the Italian government sanctioned a film version of the novel, intended as anti-Bolshevik and anti-Russian propaganda--in blatant disregard of copyright infringement. The adaptation by Goffredo Alessandrini consisted of two films, each about two hours long: Noi Vivi (We the Living) and Addio Kira (Goodbye, Kira). Valli and Brazzi costarred as Kira and Leo; Fosco Giachetti, a popular leading man of Fascist-era Italian cinema, played Andrei.

The two-part film was a hit, but it also raised the eyebrows of officials in the Mussolini government who belatedly realized that its pro-freedom message could be read as anti-Fascist. After a six-month run the film was pulled from distribution, the prints and negatives seized by the Secretariat of the National Fascist Party and the producer summoned to party headquarters in Rome to answer charges of making an anti-Fascist film.

... ...

In 1968 Rand's then attorney, Henry Mark Holzer, located and purchased the nitrate negative of the film in Rome. Then began the long process of adapting the adaptation, with major input from Rand herself and with help from Rand admirer and film editor Duncan Scott (later a successful director whose credits include the PBS series Innovation). Holzer, his wife (novelist Erika Holzer) and Scott were coproducers on the final We the Living project when the revised film was released in 1986, four years after Rand's death.

The resulting film, a manageable two hours and 50 minutes long, is in many ways a classic, old-fashioned epic romance, a black-and-white tale of love in a time of terror. While We the Living is tame by modern standards, it treats sex with a frankness not to be found in Hollywood films of the time: Not only do we get a sympathetic heroine who is sexually involved with two men, we also see her in clearly precoital moments with both.


Valli is luminous; while she looks softer and less angular than one imagines Rand's Kira from the book, she conveys the character's inner strength and passion, her indomitable energy, her yearning for happiness. Brazzi is perfect as the dashing, arrogant, charismatic Leo. Their onscreen chemistry sizzles, and this pair alone makes the film worth watching.

The casting of Giachetti as Andrei is more problematic: While Rand's Andrei is 26 at the start of the novel, Giachetti was 40 when the film was made and looks closer to 50, giving his relationship with Kira the unintended flavor of a middle-aged man's passion for a much younger woman. While Giachetti has a virile and intense screen presence, his performance does not quite rise to the poignancy of some of Andrei's scenes with Kira.

... ... ... ...

One appealing thing about the novel We the Living is that Kira remains connected to her family in a way Rand's later, superhuman heroes are not. While Kira's parents at first disown her over her unmarried cohabitation with Leo, they eventually reconcile. In the film, due to the deletions, Kira's family virtually disappears from the picture in the second half.

Also cut for artistic integrity was the ending in which, after her breakup with Leo, Kira tries to cross the border and is felled by a border guard's random shot.


The DVD set also features a documentary on the film's survival and rediscovery--a story that has its own pro-freedom message. If the DVD's release inspires a new revival for the film and helps the novel find a new audience, that will be a happy ending indeed.

This article was published in the Forbes on Thursday, February 25, 2010. Please read the original article here.
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