This is a memorable soviet movie, in the vein of propagandist adventures of young revolutionaries, which were very widespread in soviet cinema and literature, probably created to influence the youth.
It says the story of a young Italian revolutionary Artur, whose parents have died, who is despised by his relatives, with the only father figure in a catholic priest Montanelli, and a love interest Jemma, who is also a part of student revolutionary group - she is presumably, Artur's reason to enter the student group, as well.
There is a definitive blend of catholic-Christian influences in Artur's revolutionary ideas - calling Jesus Christ the greatest revolutionary. However he's more inclined to deify the priest Montanelli and put the Catholic church on the same level as God; so his faith in God and Lord Jesus Christ is easily shattered, on being jailed due to disclosing his revolutionary activities during a confession of sins to another catholic priest and on learning his real father is really Montanelli.
In this lies the danger of expecting perfection from Christians, lack of Godly love and forgiveness and mistaking human traditions in Christian churches with God's Truth, since only Lord Jesus Christ was sinless, and our faith on Him and His forgiveness of our sins cleans us, not our attempts to win our salvation, though it doesn't mean we have a license for sin.
Also Artur is rejected by his party peers, and also by the girl he loved , who now considers him a traitor. So filled with outrage and hatred, Artur leaves a suicide letter to Montanelli, only to reappear 13 years later, as a face-scarred and limp political pamphlet writer and terrorist/revolutionary, with violent past in Brazilia, with bitter writings against the Austrian Empire rulers of Italy and Catholic Church, whom he considers as an ally of the usurper.
Note, that the film differs from the book, cutting out some fragments that cast sometimes unfavorable light on Artur/Gadfly's character, that describe his hate-love attitude to his real father Montanelli, some past tragic events, and more attempts to connect to Jemma, to fulfill his youth dreams of being revolutionary love partners together with her.
More emphasis is put on Gadfly's martyr-like self-sacrifice for Italy's population, and his armed rebellion against the Austrian army, which now would be described as terrorism and arms smuggling.
Evidently, as a result of Gadfly's actions, he is caught when his father , now cardinal, Montanelli stops the shoot-out by coming between the Austrian soldiers and Artur's armed band. Facing the execution and Montanelli's attempts to save him, Artur still promises more political murders, declares himself as atheist and mocks God, then reveals himself as Montanelli's son and rebukes his father for his past lies.
In the end Artur is executed by a shooting squad, dying only on the third round, presumably to mimic Jesus' execution and resurrection on the third day. Montanelli in his grief and sorrow, proclaims that there's no God; which is not a wonder in Soviet Union, indeed more bravery was needed to claim that God is, in USSR.
CONCLUSION: The film deals with revolutionary attempts to be seen as martyr-like saints and trying to judge God, Jesus Christ and His Church as being fakes, due to accepting tyrants and rejecting violence and war; but really due to competition and God's exposing truth. The revolutionary party and Gadfly do possess some Christian-like passion and promises, but it's evident they can't think of anything higher than Jesus and His teachings, by presenting themselves as his imperfect copies.
It's understandable that the power and wealth in Christian Church has given rise to heresies and corruption, where Christ's teachings was perverted and twisted for control and lies; but it was never in God and Jesus' laws and teaching, but only the result of human fallen nature. One can read the Gospel about real Jesus Christ's war - not by the literal sword, but by the spiritual sword of God's Word and Truth, against pharisees similar to those described in the book.
I was struck, how my sins are reflected in the character of Artur/Gadfly: the desire for revenge, expectancy of perfection from others, but being imperfect, angry and hateful himself, his attempts to manipulate women to feed his ego to be seen as a manly hero and making them feel sorry for him and pulling them into danger - I've all done that unfortunately too, thus sinning against God and Jesus.
So i can't judge Artur, but neither will i agree with his actions, because his understanding of God, Jesus and his own responsibility for actions is very distorted. He doesn't give any good arguments for atheism, mistakes God's Word and human traditions, and completely forgets about forgiveness and correction as Jesus taught (to rebuke those who offend us of their sins). So far, Artur's atheism is seen as a youth-like rebellion against his parents, driven by hate, lack of forgiveness and revenge. Also his violent terrorist acts, are not a part of Jesus' rebuking of pharisees, since Jesus did none. While Jesus was sinless of violence and endured an unfair execution, Artur/Gadfly willingly used violence and endured a just execution.
To see the absolute truth and love, it is necessary is to read the Gospel about Jesus Christ' actions and words, and compare it with the Gadfly book/film - then it will be evident where is the true love and goodness.
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