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In the late 1930s, in Ferrara, Italy, the Finzi-Contini are one of the leading families, wealthy, aristocratic, urbane; they are also Jewish. Their adult children, Micol and Alberto, gather a circle of friends for constant rounds of tennis and parties at their villa with its lovely grounds, keeping the rest of the world at bay. Into the circle steps Giorgio, a Jew from the middle class who falls in love with Micol. She seems to toy with him, and even makes love to one of his friends while she knows Giorgio is watching. While his love cannot seem to break through to her to draw her out of her garden idyll, the forces of politics close in. Written by
Chances are, if you are only casually aware of the world that you live in, your life imitates that of the Finzi-Continis, one of two families depicted in this film.
The beginning of de Sica's film follows the state of affairs in Italy shortly after the Fascist government of Mussolini has declared the ordinary tennis clubs off limits for Italian Jews-just the beginning for the Government's separatist stance. The Jews in town react in various ways: Giorgio, who is in love with the daughter of the Finzi-Continis, is enraged; his father his philosophical; Giorgio's brother is upset only after being sent to France to study, and later, finding out to his horror about the German concentration camps. To the Finzi-Continis, though, it doesn't really matter. They're different from the other Jews because wealth and privilege have bred them into a family as proud as it is vulnerable. They hardly seem to know, or even care, about the fact that their rights are slowly being taken away. It seems that years of prestige and social status have put them above the laws of the land.
The walled garden of the Finzi-Continis is a symbol for the false security that people retain, unaware that problems on the outside may force them into reality. The garden of the film seems to promise that nothing will change and that everything will remain the same. Interestingly, de Sica films the garden in a way that enforces this theme of false security. He never orients us visually with the rest of the city, so we can never tell how big or how small the garden is. Have you ever felt uneasy being somewhere not knowing the exact dimensions of your boundary? That's the feeling we get here with shots of the garden that seem to stretch on forever.
The Garden of the Finzi-Continis is a great film for many reasons, one of which is how it forces us to take a proactive stance regarding the world that we live in. There's nothing wrong with feeling secure but it's important to try to take an objective stance with reference to the world that we live in. And you certainly don't want to be on the outside looking in to those who have realized it already.
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