As a black comedy about a two-faced politician, China Is Near, co-writer/director Marco Bellocchio’s scathing 1967 bedroom farce, effectively predicted the real-life disintegration of Italy’s unsustainably hypertrophic Socialist party during the 1968 general elections.
But today the film feels only superficially about Italy in the Sixties. China Is Near‘s hysterically cynical plot could easily take place anywhere there’s a surplus of social-climbers. The story is a series of nakedly self-serving betrayals: Lovers Giovanna (Daniela Surina) and Carlo (Paolo Graziosi) sleep with, respectively, wannabe councilman Vittorio (Glauco Mauri) and his wife, Elena (Elda Tattoli), in order to secure money and power for themselves.
Camillo (Pierluigi Aprà), a comically overzealous Socialist, makes matters worse for brother Vittorio by sabotaging Vittorio’s campaign with homemade bombs, cryptic graffiti, and rabid attack dogs. Vittorio is the most sympathetic of these unapologetic hypocrites, since he’s the only one who’s bad at lying.
Mauri twitches his way through some of the film’s best lines, as when Vittorio puffs out his chest and insists, “I may not believe in what I’m doing, but keeping at it, I’ll get to believe in it!” Vittorio’s buffoonish declarations of intent make him the film’s ideal figurehead. He inadvertently begs to be unmasked every time he tries to appear authoritative, especially during his concluding political rally speech. Instead, Bellocchio humiliates Vittorio by surrounding him with a satellite of relatively effective con men/women.
China Is Near — now presented in a 4K restoration — focuses itself on Vittorio’s betrayal, but it could be exposing any member of his backstabbing clique.