Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1971)
Director: Vittorio De Sica.
Starring: Dominique Sanda (Micol), Lino Capolicchio (Giorgio), Helmut Berger
(Alberto), Fabio Testi (Malnate), Romolo Valli (Giorgio's Father), Raffaele Curi
(Ernesto), Camillo Angelini-Rota (Micol's Father), Katina Viglietti (Micol's
Mother), Ina Alexeiff (Micol's Grandmother).
Academy Award: Best Foreign Language Film.
The Jewish-Italian Finzi-Continis are an aristocratic family who pretend they can screen out all the terrible events of the Fascist take over of Italy and the coming of World War II. They are comforted with the delusion that they will not be betrayed to the authorities. As events encroach closer to them, they finally realize that their pretenses were no defense against being arrested for the crime of being a Jewish person.
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
Ferrara, Italy. 1938-1944. By 1938 Mussolini of Italy is applying the so-called "Racial Laws" against Italian Jews. The Jewish Finzi-Continis live in a large mansion on a grand estate. Micol is the daughter and Alberto is the son. Given recent events the Finzi-Continis never leave their estate. A group of young people ride their bikes to the estate to play tennis with Micol and Alberto. The tennis club has put Micol and Alberto out. The Jewish Giorgio is one of those who have come to play.
Ten years ago Micol and Giorgio were close. Micol went to a private school, but she knew Giorgio. Giorgio remarks to Micol that ten years would pass before she again opened the gate to him.
At home Giorgio's father is a strong fascist. Giorgio does not understand his father's political stance. And this is especially true after the meeting of the Supreme Council. The council decided that Jews can no longer marry non-Jews; they cannot attend state schools (which threatens Giorgio's striving to get his degree); they cannot have domestic servants; they are barred from the armed forces; no Jewish obituaries can appear in the newspapers; their membership in non-Jewish clubs is virtually not permitted; and the amount of money they can send abroad is severely limited. Giorgio's father makes fun of the wealthier Finzi-Continis, which also upsets Giorgio.
Micol seems to like Giorgio and she makes an effort to be alone with him. They sit in the family's old coach in which Micol and Alberto were driven to school when they were young. Everything goes extremely well, except when Giorgio takes Micol's hand. She immediately breaks away from him and leaves him by himself in the old garage/warehouse. When Giorgio later asks to see Micol, he is told that Micol has gone to Venice with her uncles. Giorgio is bewildered by her behavior.
Giorgio goes to the library to work on his thesis. He is, however, told that he must leave. The reason is that he is Jewish. Giorgio's brother gets on a train to go to school in France. At home, Giorgio answers the phone a couple of times to a non-responder. One of his relatives tells him that he has experienced the same thing at his house: "Who are they?" "What to they want".
Alberto calls Giorgio to invite him over to the estate. He says he has a surprise for him. As Giorgio approaches the house, he is greeted by Micol. Giorgio kisses her, but she is absolutely non-responsive. When Giorgio gets a chance to be alone with Micol he again tries to kiss her but she tells him to stop. She says: "It's not possible for me to love you. What's the point? Please leave.. . . Don't come back. It's much better for the two of us."
Giorgio travels by train to see his brother Ernesto and to give him some money from the family. Meeting Ernesto's friends, Giorgio hears for the first time about concentration camps. A socialist was sent to Dachau and he has his number branded on his left forearm to prove it. Giorgio goes back to Ferrara.
A friend of Alberto's, Malnate, becomes friends with Giorgio. They go to the movies. During the newsreel, Giorgio makes fun of Hitler when he appears on the screen. A man in front of him becomes enraged, calls him a Jew and tries to hit Giorgio. Giorgio and Malnate leave the theatre to avoid being hurt.
Despite Micol having told Giorgio not to return, he just suddenly shows up to visit her again. He tells Micol that he loves her. Her response is: "But I don't love you". She tells him that he is more like a brother than a possible lover. Giorgio asks her if there is someone else but she says absolutely not. Finally, Giorgio leaves saying he will never come again.
Big demonstrations. Everyone seems to be going wild: Italy has declared war! Malnate is called up to serve in the armed forces. At twilight Giorgio passes by the back wall of the Finzi-Continis and sees Malnate's bike resting against the wall. He stops, climbs over the wall and sees Micol's dog by a small house on the estate. He looks into the window and sees Micol sitting in a chair next to Malnate in the bed. Micol sees Giorgio staring in the window. She turns on the lamp so Giorgio can see that she is nude. Giorgio turns away and leaves.
Alberto has been very ill for awhile. He dies. The Finzi-Continis bury Alberto while the air raid sirens sound in the background. Malnate was killed fighting in the Soviet Union.
The police come to the estate for the Finzi-Continis. They are driven in two cars to Micol's old private school. There they find other Jews who have already been processed. As newcomers, the Finzi-Continis must wait in the old school rooms. They get separated into two different school rooms. The rooms are very over-crowded with Jewish people.
Micol is alone with her grandmother and she tries to comfort her. Giorgio's father approaches her. She is surprised to see him. He explains that he was arrested the previous day. Micol breathlessly asks about the fate of Giorgio. But the father is the only one of the family who has been arrested. Giorgio's father tells her that hopefully Giorgio, his mother and sister are far away by now.
Good movie. Serious subject. A lot has been written and filmed about Nazi Germany and its treatment of the Jews, but this film concentrates on Italy's ill-treatment of the Jews. Italy cooperated with Germany in the Final Solution to get rid of all the Jews in Europe. The young Jewish Italian Giorgio is politically aware and follows the increasingly worse news in the media. His friends, Albert and Micol, however, take a different strategy. They stay isolated on their huge estate and don't concern themselves with politics. Giorgio loves Micol but she is extremely rough with his emotions in rejecting his advances. Micol comes across as a very unsympathetic character. When the political situation becomes deadly for the Jews in Italy and they are being sent to concentration camps, most of Giorgio's politically aware family, except for his father, are able to get out of Italy to safety. But the wealthy but non-politically aware Finzi-Continis, who had much greater resources than Giorgio's family, foolishly waited until it was too late and the Italian police rounded them all up and sent them to concentration camps where they most likely were killed. Micol is so unsympathetic of a character that you almost don't mind seeing her sent away. You are too busy feeling bad for Giorgio. The strategy of the Finzi-Continis proved ultimately to be their undoing. The moral of the story: when bad things are happening, heads up! Resists the trend and if it can't be stopped consider getting out of the country before it's too late.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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