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Title: Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini (The Garden of the Finzi-Continis)
Director: Vittorio De Sica
Not too long ago when I posted about The Ascent I made a comment about how it’s interesting to watch a film about World War II that was made by a country that was occupied. Having seen The Garden of the Finzi-Continis I had completely forgotten just how intriguing it is to see a film about this era that is made by one of the axis countries.
Maybe this is extra fascinating for me because, as a Brit, school and the media pretty much teaches you about World War II as being good versus evil with no real thought to the native Germans, Italians and Japanese. I mean you just have to see films like The Marriage of Maria Braun, La Vita è Bella or Grave of the Fireflies to see just how many shades of grey there are.
With The Garden of the Finzi-Continis I once again had my knowledge broadened about the plight of Italian Jews in the run-up to World War II. More specifically, the lives of well to-do Italian Jews who have their rights slowly taken away from them bit-by-bit until their eventual rounding up and how they deal with it. Some with denial, others with anger. In the case of the titular Finzi-Contini family, they cut themselves off from the world and only venture as far as their garden walls.
The end is inevitable the moment you realise this is Italy in the late 1930s and most of the characters you get to know are Jewish. The fact that so many of them are pretending to ignore it or just accept that this is the way things are is astounding. It is only when things are at their darkest, and therefore too late, that some of them think to flee the country. For people who clearly have money it’s remarkable that this is probably how this went down.
In terms of film-making The Garden of the Finzi-Continis is beautifully shot. The opening scenes where all the young people of the town are playing tennis together and riding their bikes is done so idyllically that it feels like the film itself has drunk a few pints of cider. The focus is soft and the colours are vibrant only to become sharper and more muted as we move towards the end.
There are many layers to this film. If I actually had it in me, it would be incredibly easy to write a proper essay on them. Going beyond the history, it is interesting how this film paints the Finzi-Contini family. Being Jews who are destined to die at the hands of the Holocaust they are one of the films many victims. However, it does posit the role this well to do and isolated family play within the city. They are very much snobs who are happy to keep to themselves at the expense of interacting with those they see below them.
In another book or film the Finzi-Contini family would be much like the Bingley’s in Pride and Prejudice (with Antonio taking on the role of Charles Bingley). You could even see Micol being an Estella type from Great Expectations. Still, here in this film they are levelled and end up as one of the many which makes for an interesting change of dynamic in the final scenes as they are led off by the police to whatever awaits them.
So yes, there is a lot to unpack in The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. As films go this feels a little bit off the radar and it really should not be.