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Dear Dom – banal and insolent

Pierre Ellul’s film, Dear Dom (cinematography of Paul and John Preca Trapani) is presented as an open letter to Dom Mintoff; a letter, apparently, by a Maltese who, though having no personal experience of Mr Mintoff’s 50-year political career, at least sought to learn and share something about it. In itself, considering the widespread disinterest of many young people towards Malta’s history, this is admirable. Nevertheless, the end result of this commendable effort is, regrettably, superficial, banal and profoundly insolent. Yet the worse thing – and the most worrying – is that, as I deduce, the producers genuinely believe that they made a good job.

Of course, no historical narrative can ever fail to be a subjective interpretation. This is understandable. However, in this case, the film at no moment attempts to provide a minimal indication that its producers recognise the vast complexity of any historical event. What occurred throughout Mr Mintoff’s political career could, and in fact had, lots of causes working together simultaneously. Superficially, the film simply ignores any of them, and presents a historical account which seems to have been the doing of a single person acting on his own. One has to make an effort to be more preposterous.

What is more, the film ludicrously presents the labour of a person as if he were not a very complex entity in himself. The producers audaciously presume to know Mr Mintoff inside out. They boldly present him as if he were a children’s open book. At no moment throughout the hour-long documentary do they try to indicate the complexity of his personality or, at least, demonstrate the slightest inkling that they appreciate his psychological involvedness.

Apart from all this, the film reveals that, notwithstanding the excellent effort made, the producers wretchedly failed to realise the essence of what was actually involved throughout the story they narrate. Their superficiality does not only show with regard to Mr Mintoff’s historical persona but more so with regard to the very dynamics of Maltese society, let alone the profound changes that he and others succeeded in bringing about. At no point does the film express the least interest in the power relations and struggles involved in any society; much less a comprehension of them. This should have been especially significant to so small a society like ours, and one crammed into the space of a little island.

The over-all result of such tawdriness is, scientifically speaking, a parody of the historical discipline. What one eventually gets is a complete banalisation of the enormous intricacy of historical events, and a rude brush-off of the rigour required of any historical documentary that’s worth its salt. For sure, I do understand quite perfectly that a production intended for general consumption must be as simple as possible. But no legitimate producer will take this as a justification of banality.

Amongst those arbitrarily chosen to be interviewed for the film, it is only Lino Spiteri who rescues the production from being totally stale. He is the only one who at least tried to give an indication of the rationality to the story; a rationality, I must quickly add, which the film positively cancels out. Effectively, this drives me to conclude that, with all due respect, Mr Spiteri’s participation in the film was what I would unhappily call a grave mistake. Assuming that he had not endorsed the final product, he would not have allowed himself to be abused as he had been.

The rest of the interviews – interspersed with some Mintoff clips which are chronologically (and, perhaps, unkindly) taken out of their context – are so puerile, simplistic and provincial that there could not have been a more apt contribution to the overall triviality and frivolousness with which the film tells its story.

To top it all, the film unconscientiously wraps up the whole of Mr Mintoff’s fifty-year political career in one word: vindictiveness! It is difficult not to regard this as the epitome of the production’s superficiality and banality; a clear indication that, even if ingenuously, the producers understood nothing. This gives no credit to Professor Dominic Fenech, Dr Mark Anthony Falzon and Victor Fenech, who supposedly served the production team as historical consultants. Judging from the results, I very much doubt how such consultation could have been in any way intellectually or, at least, academically intense.

Such a mop-up is frankly insolent. Not only to the collective and individual conscience of thousands of people but moreover to the political maturity which most of us believe we possess. For, when the experience of an entire people over a span of half a century is reduced to a mere frivolous and prosaic platitude, one word alone comes to mind: insolence. And profoundly so.

This must have been the reason why I was not surprised when I learnt, according to the film’s exclusive website, that Culture Minister Mario de Marco described the film as “excellent” and Shadow Minister for Culture Owen Bonnici as “an important film that everyone must go to watch”.

As for me, I direly lament the money I spent to watch it, and the precious time I employed to give it thought in order to write these few lines.

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