Tuesday, 3 April 2012

'Dear Dom' – A superficial, banal, and insolent film

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 Mintoff’s fifty-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 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 Mintoff inside out. They boldly present him as if he were a child’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 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 Mintoff’s historical persona, but more so with regard to the very dynamics of Maltese society, let alone the profound changes that Mintoff 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, 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 over-all triviality and frivolousness with which the film tells its story.

To top it all, the film unconscientiously wraps up the whole of Mintoff’s fifty-year political carrier 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, Hon. Mario DeMarco, described the film as “excellent”, and Shadow Minister for Culture, Hon. 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.

Talking Point: Times of Malta, 3 March, 2012


  1. Mark, kif ghidt int stess, ahjar minflok mort tara l-film u tahli l-hin tikkumenta hawn fuq, ghamilt hiltek kollhu ta' qassis - kif inhu d-dmir tieghek wara kollox - biex tkellem lill-eroj tieghek Mintoff jitlob mahfra lill-ghexieren ta' eluf ta' nies li tant batew taht ir-regim tieghu... forsi ssalva ruh!

  2. Din il-bloggata ma kienetx ħela ta' ħin għax tinforma lill- persuni bħali, li ftit li xejn jafu dwar Mintoff, dwar in-natura ta' dan id-dokumentarju. Wara li qrajt din il-bloggata sirt naf kif jaħsibha dwar dan id-dokumentarju xi ħadd li huwa ħassieb u li għix taħt il-gvern ta' Mintoff. Mark Montebello kien artikolat biżżejjed biex jikteb reċensjoni li toffri kritika kostruttiva.

    1. Saqsi lin-nies li batew kif ghexu taht Mintoff. Ommi u missieri jghixu fil-biza ghax bil-lejl konna nsibu l-bieb ta' barra bil-fniek maqtulin, u konna nircievu ittri illi jheddu lil missieri illi jekk jiehu lilna l-iskola tal-Knisja, joqtluna (lilna t-tfal).
      Saqsi lin-nies illi llum fl-2012 bezghu jitkellmu dwar Mintoff. Nies bhali illi ghadhom trawmatizzati minn dak li raw u semghu. Dak irid jghid Fr. Montebello, li bi kliemu jwegga' aktar lin-nies qieghed, mhux ifejjaqhom.

    2. @ Marina. Tigdibx. Kif jien qatt ma esperjenzjajthom dawn l-affarijiet. Kollu immaginazzjoni ta 'SETTA' li taf toghbod lil min tella' l-fqir targa l'fuq.

  3. Ask the people who suffered under Mintoff's regime: my father who lost his job, my cousin who was beaten up because he was a University student, the thousands who were discriminated against, because they were Nationalist, ask me whose family lived in fear of retribution due to their being Nationalists. Ask the people who are still going through post traumatic stress disorder. As a priest, you should understand that forgiveness requires much more than the insolence you're showing through this blog. Christ was compassionate to the people he suffered. What compassion are you showing as a priest towards the thousands whose lives were blighted and ruined due to Mintoff and his regime.

    Rather than condemn the film, you, for starters, should stop and ask yourself whether it has a modicum of truth. Then show a modicum of decency and, together with all of Mintoff's apologists, ask for forgiveness.

    Pierre Ellul's film irked me because it doesn't pay one cent of justice to all the suffering people like me and my family went through.

    1. Inthom li qed tigdbu fuq Missier Malta Hielsa ma tarawx wicc Alla.

  4. Marina I lived my childhood under Dr.George Borg Olivier, and Archbihop Gonzi. I attended a church school, where we were indoctrinated against Mintoff. I was taught that Mintoff was a monster. I later learned that my father who never said anything against the church was an MLP supporter who because he was a worker and a member of the GWU and the MLP was not allowed to receive the Sacraments. This really made me angry since the nuns who were supposed to be the saints were sowing hatred towards people like my father while my father (unlike the PN supporters of the 70s) suffered in silence.
    I was a young lady just out of school when Mintoff became Prime Minister of Malta. I was paid four pounds a week, and men who did exactly my job were paid more than me. In a few years under what you called Mintoff's regime, he had introduced the National Minimum wage, equal wages for both sexes and two thirds pension. He later introduced the worker student scheme which saw many young working class people entering tertiary education. That is why the elite University students were against Mintoff, because now their daddy's money was not enough to get them a place in University. Now they had to compete with poorer persons, who were sometimes more intelligent. There always was political discrimination in jobs, and there still is. Just take a look at the present high government positions, but first take off your tinted glasses. Mintoff never increased his wages by 500 euro, while the workers were earning less than the minimum wage. I wonder who is really a regime, Mintoff who erased poverty from Malta, or the present conservative government, who are living a life of luxury, through our taxes while some people are living in poverty.

  5. Hawn tant topics interessanti ghal film-makers biex jaghmlu success!! Jien assolutament ma naqbilx li xi hadd, hu min hu, jabbuza mit-talenti li Alla tah biex joqghod jaqla l-passat u jhammeg lil haddiehor. Wara kollox kull min jerfa ghabtu jsib xi jxomm. Passat kulhadd ghandu. Ta min hu maghruf ghax persuna pubblika u ta min hu mistur. Zbalji kulhadd jaghmel u perfett hadd mhu. Nissimpatizza ukoll ma min ikun imweggha ghax il-Mulej biss jaf minn liema sofferenza emozzjonali ikunu ghaddejjin specjalment jekk l-ingustizzji ma jigux indirizzati. Imma jekk f'ghajejhom dal-bniedem hu tant hazin, kien ikun ahjar kieku ingabru biex qalu xi talba ghal Mintoff, milli insulentawh b'dal film. Wara kollox hadd minnha ma jista jghid jekk Mintoff iddispjaciehx mill-hsara li ghamel lil proxxmu! Hadd ma jaf jekk irrikonciljax m'Alla l-Imbierek. Tuh cans!! Jekk tahsbu li le, itolbu ghalih, halli l-Mulej juri hniena mieghu fl-ahhar snin ta hajtu u jdawwru lejH kif jaf jaghmel HU biss....imma cert li l-mod tal-Mulej mhuwiex bl-insulti u bl-attakki personali!

    San Gorg Preca kien jghallimna li kull azzjoni li ahna naghmlu ghandu jkollha l-intenzjoni retta li taghti Glorja lil Alla! Ghiduli ftit kif gie Glorifikat il-Hallieq Divin permezz ta dan il-movie!! U ghalhekk iva naqbel ma Fr. Mark 100% li ma kellu jkun qatt! Ma hareg u mhu se johrog ebda gid minnu ghal HADD.

  6. jien dejjem ghext hajja ta sinjur u komdu taht Mintoff,lilna qatlulna il kugin il RAYMOND CARUANA min qatlu?. kollox kien isir bi skop biex jinqala' l inkwiet fil pajjiz,mintoff x' kellu bzonnu l-inkwiet li naf meta spicca halla Malta sinjura.ahna in nies ta Bormla konna qlajna xeba'gass tad dmugh fi zmien EFA.

  7. Mark, I beg to differ, most commentators who have criticised the film for its superficiality, lack of analysis, lack of historical context, were expecting a documentary. Dear Dom is docudrama. The whole point of the film lies in the phrase "The man who fought for change but then resisted it" and this is also Lino Spiteri's conclusion .... "you can not raise the educational level of the working class but then belittle your supporters through the way you address them" is perhaps one of the phrases which sums up the film (by the way Lino Spiteri said this). I would add, you can not fight for the advancement of civil rights in the 60's then do your damnest to negate them in the 80's (the BBC commentator's words "The BBC and the Times' journalists were not granted the necessary permits to cover the elections in Malta" have exemplify this). In addition there is obviously a personal touch to it as well, if Pierre Ellul was a kid during Mintoff's Premiership, (just like me) then we will surely include the chocolate issue in his recollections... should we dub him as superficial, only because his impressions of a political giant are tarnished by a number of childhood memories????? In my case, whilst acknowledging Mintoff's importance, in so far as the welfare system is concerned and in so far as the initiation of secularisation is concerned, however I can never divorce my impressions of his persona from my petty (if you want to call them so) childhood memories such as seeing a cohort of policemen outside the doors of my school, having to run around as a result of Mintoff's imposed blockade on 3 church schools in particular, being deprived of decent chocolate etc etc .......

  8. Can't say what were bad,were good. All i can say is that i finished a secondary school in 1975. In the nextday I had a job in a factory.The shops were fully active, especially in Valletta. I were able to built my own house in 1982 without any depts or help from any other person.
    With the so called democracy of today, you pity all the shops in Valletta.Young people are in depts for the rest of thier life to live in a flat.All malta have traffic problems due to bad planning in road building. We are facing poverty in real terms.Low class workers are loosing their rights.
    Yes ,I lived those times of Mintoff, the first person in malta who were able to face the british empire, Golda mayor ,when she sent a destroyer near our island, without kissing their asses.We saw Malta Drydocks uploaded with ships. A new Air Malta,A new shipbuilding,Sea Malta and many others. We really kept going on.
    Why mentioning only one part of the story. afterall if a person is able to view one side and create a movie against Mintoff, I will be very pleased to make a movie about the dramas of the early sixties. It will be much more interesting.

  9. isn't this the same Mark Montebello who at the recent PL conference made a speech about Mintoff comparing him to Jesus Christ.......and then he has the cheek to talk about insolence and banality. I find it hypocritical for such a critique to be given when one has such an overt adoration for the subject-matter.

    I've seen the film and it gives a really good overview of what happened over 50 years of history. As a film it can only try to capture the mood. Ever see a movie made from any bestseller? the movie never and simply cannot go into all the detail of the book. The film is not superficial at all. To be able to represent what it did spanning so many years must have been the result of lots and lots of research. Too much detail in a film could bore a viewer and the director does not fall into that trap as the film is gripping and interesting. It is up to the viewer to then go and read up more. It certainly has enticed me to go and read up on parts of our history I had no knowledge of. Thank you pierre ellul.

  10. Id-dittatura qieghdin nghixuha issa ghax ghandna gvern elett b'maggoranza relattiva li ssarfet f'siggu maggoranza! Ghalkemm il-maggoranza ntilfet fil-parlament... instabet soluzzjoni, tiehux voti fil-parlament u laqghu l-inqas possibli! Dik demokrazija!

  11. P.Borg
    ghalkemm ghaddew is-snin minn fuq il-kitba tieghek, jien il-lum qed naqra l-ewwel darba, il-mibki Dom Mintoff kien l-unika persuna li taht it-tmexxija tieghu sehhew fil-prattika l-opri tal-hniena li fuqhom Alla se jiggudika lil kull bnidhem meta jidher quddiemu, kellek bzon inti ghamilt il-gid li ghamel il-Perit Mintoff mal-baghtuti u l-emarginati tas-socjeta Maltija u Ghawdxija.


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