A necessary step in reconstructing the secret logic of an artist – whether a writer, painter, musician or director – is studying the differences between the completed work and each draft of the creative work in progress. The original treatment for The Spider’s Stratagem has been found; the project’s very first written form was typed and kept with a dialogue list. The beginning of each document contains a rather telling prologue that is not in the film: Athos Jr, the main character, is at his home in a big city and has just received a mysterious letter from a certain Draifa posted from Tara. The next morning the young man says goodbye to his wife before taking a train to Tara, talking about not having slept well and feeling like he has not quite woken up… An obviously explanatory scene, especially for a filmmaker who “never liked things that are too clear”; hence the eventual removal of this classic expedient suggesting that the ensuing action could be, in whole or in part, the character’s dream “(but maybe not)”, to use Pirandello’s words, and takes place in “that no man’s land between waking and sleeping”, to use the words of the poet of La camera da letto, Attilio Bertolucci.
Although unaware of Bertolucci’s change of mind, in 1970, the Belgian director André Delvaux – the forefather of “magic realism” in film who had award-winning titles such as The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short (1965) and One Night… A Train (1968) – immediately recognized The Spider’s Stratagem as a genuine masterpiece of the artistic style so dear to him and with which he would associate Bertolucci’s unique approach repeatedly in the future. He did not have the slightest idea that the ambiguous and rarefied atmosphere of his own work had influenced the more recent films of his young Italian colleague, Partner and Strategy! [F.G.]