Addio Zio Tom review by The Grim Ringler

To say this is a very strange, very dark film is an understatement. As part of the Mondo boxset of films released by Blue Underground and was part of a series of films that were created as documentaries (or in this case pseudo-documentaries) that dealt with some of the stranger, more macabre aspects of life that we Americans rarely are privy to. The idea behind Addio Zio Tom is that this is a documentary about slavery in America when it was in its hey-day. What this sounds like is an exploitation film meant to shock and appall the viewer, and that isnt far off of what it is, but that isnt all it is. This film is also a very well made and very grim look at race relations and the unhealed wounds that slavery has caused this country and its people.

Addio Zio Tom is truly a guided tour through hell. Shot as a pseudo-documentary by a crew of Italian filmmakers, AZT begins with images of race riots and the spread of unrest during the sixties and seventies in America. Within these images, all grim reminders of how far we have yet to go as a society, are the sound bytes of many black leaders many would say are radicals as they espouse the virtues of a war against the white race. Just as the viewer is settling into the imagery though there is a shift and from the bloody streets of a city we find ourselves in the lush beauty of a southern plantation. The plantations owners invite the filmmakers who we never see, their voices coming from behind the camera as they have taken on the voice of God here to come and watch as they settle in for a dinner party. During the dinner party, as the whites are served by their slaves there is a discussion about slavery and the attitude is one of right, they have the right to slave so why shouldnt they? The film shifts again and we are taken to a slave ship loaded to capacity and headed for America. The slaves aboard are sick and malnourished, their meals coming periodically in the shape of a watery gruel that appears unfit for human consumption, but then, to the owners of this ship, these arent humans at all. Its hard not to be sickened as we watch the slaves fighting to stay alive as disease, hunger, and finally despair take over their bodies. Those that do make it to America and these are relatively few seeing as how it was already accepted that many would be lost during the arduous journey are welcomed into a new hell. Roughly cleaned and herded into an area so they can be sold, their lives are truly lost to them as they are bartered for and bought. Some we see are studded out, meant to serve as bulls that will impregnate women so that more slaves can be created. And here we see that many men have given into the idea that they are animals, their nature regressing to that of a thing, a human phallus. And if you, dear viewer, have made it this far, you are a brave soul as things are only going to get worse. From here we are taken to slave brothels where we see where white men can have their fantasies fulfilled by very young teenagers who are treated as nothing more than whores and this part got to me the most as these are shockingly young people and the filmmakers linger a bit too long on their naked flesh, the point is made but it could have been made in a more tactful way. Eventually we wind up on a beach with a young black man who is reading the diary of a slave who had rebelled and become a killer, killing those who had oppressed him and thus becoming a cult hero. As the young man sits on the beach his mind wanders, watching the white families as they frolic around him, seeming to see him not as a man but as one of them, and as he daydreams, the book he is reading becomes a brutal reality in his mind. He sees himself torturing and killing the families he sees, lashing out at memory of slavery, at the ghost of racism, and at the condescension he feels in his daily life. The film ends as it began, with images of street wars, of beatings, and an implied question where do we go from here?

Its hard to recommend a film as brutal as this because most people will find it very difficult to get through, and I can sympathize. I watched this in chunks over the course of a day and still found it rather upsetting. But then that is the point of the film. This film does not glorify slavery and racism but holds it in our faces so we can see what it was like, can see what it was, and can perhaps gain a hint of understanding of what the images are behind the words. When many of us think of slavery we think of people forced to till fields and to work long, hard hours. And yes, this is not a life any of us would want or wish on another person, but the reality is that slavery was much more vile and inhuman. At one point a doctor is showing the filmmakers his lab and the specimens, all slaves, held in cages, and here we hear him speak of how these are not humans at all, but animals, and must be treated as such. We are shown a world of horror, a world we are not meant to like, but a world we need to face. There are moments when we can hear the observations of the filmmakers, and here we are given their views, their opinions, but that is as close as we get to a clean moral. The moral here is written clearly but not stated this is what happened, so what do we do about it?

The film is beautifully made, the direction shifting from hazy, sun-bleached images of grand homes, fields of flowers, and crumbled facades, then will push us face first into a slave ships hull as slaves have their teeth pulled out, eat like pigs at a trough, or slowly rot away in the moist darkness of the hull. The acting too is surprisingly good, the film never slipping into parody or absurdity, though there are rare glimpses of humor. The biggest fault there is with the film is that it is so mercilessly dark that the viewer is almost dared to finish the film.

What we must remember here too though is that this is as much a political film as it is a fiction one. There are no redeemable white characters, and there is no human compassion shown to slaves. While I am sure that there werent a whole lot of great people who were slave owners, it is wrong to say that every one was a monster and treated their slaves as brutally as shown. We are given images that the filmmakers want us to see, the worst of the worst. We are, essentially, shown hell, and are asked if we condone it and can believe that it existed. I can forgive the broad brush the filmmakers paint with as this isnt about showing a fair and balanced view of slavery but is more to show the worst of the worst and force us to deal with it. This is not meant to be a fair film, it is meant to be a work of factual fiction.

As dark and brutal as AZT is, this is a brilliant film, and an important one. Rarely do we see as real a representation of slavery and its sins as we have been presented here, and though it isnt a pleasant film to watch, it is one we must watch. We fancy that we have evolved past racism as a society but still the bugaboo of slavery and racism hangs over American culture and society. We have run from racism and slavery for a good many years, and perhaps its time to finally turn and face it, to face its horrors, and to ask us what we do, where we go, and how we can make sure such atrocities are stopped throughout the rest of the world. Hard to watch but an amazing film.


8 out of 10 Jackasses
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