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Terzani’s life

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011
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Two hours into the flight, flipping through the choice of deliberately inane movies they put on board, I clicked on ‘La fine č il mio inizio’. As the titles rolled, I sat up. It was an Italian movie in German with English subtitles about the legendary journalist, Tiziano Terzani.

I had heard about Terzani in my days as a media nomad in southeast Asia from fellow journalists who had covered Mao’s China, the fall of Saigon, the Cambodian holocaust and the People Power Uprising in the Philippines.

But this was not a movie about a foreign correspondent, it was about Terzani’s conversation with his son, Falco, as he lay dying of cancer in his home village in the hills of Tuscany. The movie is based on Falco’s book of the same name, translated as ‘The End is My Beginning’ published after Terzani died in 2004 at age 66.

Like many young Europeans in the late 1960’s, Terzani was fascinated with Mao Tse Tung and how he was trying to transform feudal China through a true peasant revolution. He convinced the German magazine Der Spiegel to hire him as a roving correspondent and travelled to China at a time when the country was difficult to get into for any European, let alone a journalist.

Terzani looked at China with journalistic objectivity, and tried not to be judgemental. But, he confesses to his son in the movie: “It took me some time to see the reality.” Caught in between the excesses of western materialistic consumerism and Asian communist revolutions gone horribly wrong, Terzani turns to spiritualism even though he was an atheist. This quest became his final journey when he found out he had only a few more years to live and sought the solitude of an ashram in the Indian Himalaya.

The film follows the last days of Terzani’s life as he sits under a tree with Falco gazing out the serenity of the Italian countryside. One expects flashbacks to break the monotony of the father-son conversations, but there are none, yet the film is riveting.

Father tells son about what he learnt about life and death, how they are part of a cycle of creation, how in the ashram he discovered the “great wholeness not just of human beings, but also of the universe”. Also the lessons he has learnt about the western notion of democracy and the free market. “We have never been as unfree as we are now, the market economy tells us what to do,” he says.

Terzani says that once he saw his own life as a part of a greater universal whole, he did not fear death anymore. “You are one with the world, and everything is a part of you,” he says, “I stopped looking for a cure for my cancer but for the mortality that affects us all.” Falco takes his father for a walk to a mountain top, and both gaze out into a vast quilt of clouds below. “Who or what holds all this together?” Terzani wonders.

You know Terzani will die, and when he passes away quietly in his sleep Falco takes his father’s ashes to the same mountain top. At the end of the movie, there is an exquisite long shot of him in silhouette unfurling the scarf to let the wind carry his father’s ashes away.

On the plane, the screen flicks back to the map showing our flight’s progress. Because of the Icelandic volcano, the plane is taking a southerly route and we were flying over northern Italy. Below us,  I can make out the hilltop town and forests of Tuscany.

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3 Responses to “Terzani’s life”

  1. Naresh on Says:

    Good you bested your take-off savoring some good scenes — inside as well as outside the board!
    You slipped in me a vicarious feeling and flipped my mind through some of best movies I remember oftentimes.
    ‘Forrest Gump’ is the one. Another is ‘Brave Heart’. ‘Seven years in Tibet’ is also a masterpiece. In Forrest Gump is few second clip pertaining Ku Klus Klan (KKK), a group held responsible for the death of civil rights bulwark Martin Luther King Jr.
    Brave Heart is such an MelGibson-like that it sweeps us past to the Thirteenth century’s William Wallace, a hero who maintains the pride of Scotland through swordsmanship and martyrdom. Seven years in Tibet is of such epic maneuver that Hollywood’s claimants say Brad was banned in China along with his movies that pictured His Holiness Dalai Lama and the moment surrounding Mao’s invasion in Tibet.


  2. Rituraj Sapkota on Says:

    #1. Hollywood fantasy is interesting to watch, I suppose. Brave Heart is riddled with so many historical inaccuracies, it is ridiculous, and Seven Years in Tibet is but a orientalist gimmick made by a oh-I-am-so-philanthropic director and demeans the very essence of Harrer’s book. While everyone deserves to have a good time, I would strongly suggest exploring a bit of alternative cinema and documentaries. Chritian Frei’s “War photographer” makes for an excellent stepping stone for novice film-watchers. Will await a review.


  3. Rituraj Sapkota on Says:

    #1 Naresh
    Hollywood fantasy is interesting to watch, I suppose. Brave Heart is riddled with so many historical inaccuracies, it is ridiculous, and Seven Years in Tibet is but a orientalist gimmick made by a oh-I-am-so-philanthropic director and demeans the very essence of Harrer’s book. While everyone deserves to have a good time, I would strongly suggest exploring a bit of alternative cinema and documentaries. Chritian Frei’s “War photographer” makes for an excellent stepping stone for novice film-watchers. Will await a review.


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