Henry Fonda president | ICON

When Henry Fonda died in 1982 at age 77, Maruja Torres wrote in this newspaper: “His eyes were the best thing he had. It was difficult not to trust someone who looked like that: two steel-gray pillars that seemed to emanate directly from the Constitution, which states that no American citizen can testify against himself. That description of Maruja would be well suited to present one of the best films of the next season, an impressive documentary-essay that, after passing through the Berlinale and the Bafici, in Buenos Aires, can be seen this fall in Spain.

This is the first film by Austrian critic and writer Alexander Horwath, who, over three hours of footage, makes an admirable political x-ray of the United States through the protagonist of young lincolnJohn Ford’s film about the American president’s younger years.

Horwath’s essay is fascinating, and should be required viewing this year in which Donald Trump may return to the White House with unpredictable consequences for the world. Fonda, who considered himself a radical and a rebel without militancy, points out something in the film referring to Ronald Reagan, for whom he had no sympathy, neither personal nor professional, which is chilling to hear today: “Reagan obsesses me so much that it is difficult to talk about it. I think he is leading us to disaster and I am surprised that there is not more opposition to his figure. With it, a path opens from which we will not get out for a long time.” Nothing happens overnight, and Fonda seems to warn us that what we are experiencing now began to take shape almost half a century ago with the ultraconservative “crusade” of an aspiring actor who had, as the man who played to Tom Joad of The grapes of wratha dangerous talent that made him “retch”: giving great speeches in which he told people “what they wanted to hear.”

Frame from the film ‘Henry Fonda for president’ (2024).Henry Fonda for president

The film captures terrible historical events, such as the lynching of the young black man William Brown, an atrocious episode that Fonda witnessed as a teenager, something that marked him for life. He also establishes very good relationships, for example, with Jodie Foster. It is a pleasure to listen to Horwath’s reflections on an actor who symbolizes like few others the quintessence of the dignified man of his word, of the myth of the good American. That symbol, with his lights and shadows, was actually someone very reserved, who was married five times and had, due to his coldness, a very complex relationship with his children. At the end of his life, the actor became a farmer and if they flattered him he would bray. A man, without a doubt, from another era.

But Fonda was neither nor did he want to be a prophet. He was a sullen man, without the slightest interest in himself and “without right answers on any matter.” A guy who in his last interview, one of the leading threads of the film, goes so far as to say—in case it hasn’t become clear after four days of conversation—that he neither has much esteem for himself nor considers himself special: “I hope “I would have been someone better, smarter, I have only had the opportunity to play wonderful guys and that, for someone who doesn’t like themselves, is great therapy.”

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