Tuesday, June 30, 2009

DVD Views: The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1971)

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1971) *** ½
Directed By: Vitorrio De Sica.
Written By: Vittorio Bonicelli & Ugo Pirro based on the novel by Giorgio Bassani.
Starring: Lino Capolicchio (Giorgio), Dominique Sanda (Micòl Finzi Contini), Fabio Testi (Bruno Malnate), Romolo Valli (Giorgio's Father), Helmut Berger (Alberto), Camillo Cesarei (Micol's Father), Inna Alexeievna (Micol's Grandmother), Katina Morisani (Micol's Mother), Barbara Pilavin (Giorgio's Mother).

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis opens in Italy in 1938. Mussolini has already risen to power, and he is started to put more and more restrictions on the Jews in the area. The latest offence is that Jews are no longer allowed to marry non-Jews, have non-Jewish servants, attend public schools and other offences. It is strange to watch how the two Jewish families at the heart of the movie react to what is going on.

The middle class family debates what is going on, leading to arguments. Giorgio is enraged by what is happening, and does not want to accept it. When he is kicked out of the library at his school, he demands to see the director, who apologizes for kicking him out, but he has to. He doesn’t make the rules, and he has a family. “All of Italy has a family”, Giorgio replies before storming out. His father tries to rationalize things. No, he does not really like the restrictions, but the Fascists here are not nearly as bad as the Nazis, he says. They still have their fundamental freedoms. They are still Italian after all.

But the Finzi-Continis don’t even seem to notice what is happening. They are exceedingly wealthy, live in a gorgeous estate in their small town of Ferraro, where they are the wealthiest, most influential people in town. If they aren’t allowed at the tennis club anymore, who cares? They have their own court where their adult children Micol (Dominique Sanda) and Alberto (Helmut Berger) can have their friends over. Only Giorgio is Jewish, but the rest like them anyway. They stay locked away in their big house, and their vast garden, and ignore the world outside. It cannot possibly effect them.

At the heart of the movie is the relationship between Giorgio and Micol. He has been in love with her since they were kids, even though back then he didn’t get to see her very often. She and her brother were homeschooled, but they had to come out once in awhile. At the time, Micol seemed to like him as well, always smiling and laughing and waving when they saw each other. Now that they are older, Giorgio wants to move forward with their relationship, but Micol rebuffs him time and again. Why? They obviously like each other – we can see that in scene after scene. She does not like the guy she is having an affair with very much, but she does it anyway. Micol is trying so hard to hold onto the past – hold onto the image she has of Giorgio when they were kids, that she will not allow herself to move forward. This is also why she never leaves the estate her family owns. Outside of those walls, that garden, is an outside world where she doesn’t know what is going to happen. Inside, she is safe. Right?

The film was directed by Vittorio De Sica, who is best known for his neo-realist works of the 1940s and 1950s. This film is not like those ones at all. Those films, that all took place in postwar Italy, had a reality so harsh for its characters that they could not hide from it. They were poor, they had nothing, and they worked constantly to try and survive. The characters in this movie are different as they have everything, and even though storm clouds are on the horizon, they choose to ignore them. Only Giorgio seems to fully grasp what is going on, everyone else seems to want to rationalize what is happening or ignore it. They do so at their own peril.

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