“Today I live on an island, in a house that is sad, hard, severe, that I built for myself, solitary on a sheer rock over the sea: a house that is the spectre, the secret image of prison. The image of my nostalgia. Maybe I never desired, not even then, to escape from jail. Man is not meant to live freely in freedom, but to be free inside a prison.” ― Curzio Malaparte, Fughe in prigione
Casa Malaparte, an orange villa with a staircase for a roof in the Isle of Capri, sounds like the summer home to a long line of Malapartes. Nope, the structure is named for half-German Curzio Malaparte (nee Kurt Erich Suckert) who legally changed his name to ressemble Napoleon Bonaparte's (Bonaparte means 'good side', Malaparte means 'bad side.')
Is everyone as delighted as I am? Malaparte fills the trope of the prickly artist like I've never seen. He loved no one more than his dog Febo; he dined with prominent Nazis and Fascists, but always denying that he was a sympathizer, and later, in 1937, he commissioned an architect to build him an isolated structure away from all the tiresome humanoids only to scrap the design so that he could do it himself.
(It's important to tell you that I see my own dad, a sculptor, take on a lot more prickliness with age. He is always lowering music and drawing the blinds.)
Anyway, in covering Casa M, TFBN considered its cameo in Godard's Contempt, where it was the backdrop to an ending marriage and some iconic Brigitte Bardot footage. I have never seen Contempt but I plan on it. I can't pretend I've seen it. From the IMDB message boards I can glean that it's about the making of film adaptation of The Odyssey - an important detail because Curzio Malaparte was exiled in an island (with Febo) where Odysseus was said to have stayed with his dog, Argos - something he was aware of and even fixated on as he built his own legend.
It so happened that my discovery of Malaparte coincided with a re-watching of the French epic, The Count of Monte Cristo, featuring Gerard Depardieu as an angry man who compares himself to god, and who also plays the stock market. I even threw a small viewing party where you were required to take a jell-o shot every time the Count changed outfits (he has six aliases, but because of Depardieu's invincible nose, it is very hard to believe in these tricks.)
I've also seen the Guy Pearce version from 2002 which sucks the juice out of the book, creating a most basic love story. There haven't been many Count adaptations; each has been a period piece and each strays from the book. My simultaneous fascination with the Count and Malaparte led to reveries about what a modern Monte Cristo might look like - set, of course, in this brassy casa of Capri.
The points of alignment between Monte Cristo (nee Edmond Dantes) and Malaparte are uncanny. First there is the matter of the leading man; both stories are of reinvention and fraud; given names are disregarded, thrown out of prison windows. Speaking of prison, they both spent some time in an institution (although only the Count was what one would call 'institutionalized.') Curzio was exiled by Mussolini on two occasions for direct insults (and calling Hitler a woman.) He built Casa Malaparte following his second stint in prison, explaining why many of the smaller windows are barred. Meanwhile, the Count spends 14 years at Château d'If -a prison on the island of If. And what for? Because of some of Napoleon's letters that the Count was delivering back to France. That Napoleon sure has his hands in many pots.
Both are stories of historically-accurate European intrigue. The heavily truncated Guy Pearce movie shows nothing of this, but if you watch the French version you will have front row seats to France in the 1800s. Ali Pasha's battle against the Turks, Bonaparte's attempts at mutiny, and the Count's expeditions as a sailor figure into the plot. On the other hand we have Malaparte, who founded the Fascist-backed literary magazine, Prospettive, and put his intimate knowledge of the Nazis and Fascists, as well as his time as a soldier during the first World War, in writing.
It's really a tale of two misanthropes; the Count punishing anything that so much as gives him a side-eye and Malaparte avoiding all contact. He even built a bedroom for lady friends, far removed from his own.
His coastal fortress not only provides a setting for many Count scenes (until he moves to Paris and induges in le high life) but also lends the furrowing rigidity of a man who keeps to himself; one who is occupied building his (faux) persona and a faraway house to match.
Read more! Michael Z. Wiseby