Genoa, 1943. Grimaldi is a swindler, pretending to be a colonel in the Italian army to get money from the family of people put into jail by the Nazis. Once caught, the Gestapo makes a deal with him : he will stay alive if he impersonates the General Della Rovere, a leader of the Resistance who has just been shot by the Nazis, to be put into a political jail where he is supposed to identify another Resistance leader. Written by
The story of the film concerns "Colonelo" Bertone a self-appointed community intercessor and thief in World War II Italy, passing on bribes from families to the Germans in order to help their sons (or gambling away the bribes and eating their food parcels). It's definitely a film of two halves, the first half of the movie to me feeling decidedly Pasolinian. Bertone, though undoubtedly a scoundrel does his best to keep people happy, is a character that spreads a certain amount of charm in the world. For some people who have never known love or had anyone to look up to, he provides a show, his charisma is like ambrosia. Having been brought up with Protestant vales it has been a revelation to me in life how people value charm as most precious, a Veblen good, more prized when it is most demanding, how a charming person is valued above all others even when they live in a moral vacuum.
The second half of the movie is, in structure, a more conventional prison movie where Bertone, working for the Germans in order to save his skin, becomes an impostor pretending to be Generale della Rovere. Whilst pretending to be the general he begins to assume many of the general's characteristics. This part of the film is very patriotic, and contains a beautiful fresco of Italian cities on the prison wall. The ideology of this part of the movie is all about recognising the efforts of the largely Communist, Partito d'Azione and Socialist partisan resistance, bodies who were largely excluded from the post-fascist Italian government, which was dominated by the Christian Democrats, who many felt to have been tainted by association with fascism.
Pontecorvo's movie Kapò was released contemporaneously, and features a similarly caricatured version of the Teutonic gaoler and slightly ebullient view of World War II, that would become refined in future decades. That said, Il Generale della Rovere, is undoubtedly a masterpiece.
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