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... See full summary »
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Vittorio De Sica
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Vittorio De Sica
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Vittorio De Sica
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
In THE GARDEN OF THE FINZI-CONTINIS -- based on the autobiographical novel by Giorgio Bassani -- legendary Neorealist filmmaker, Vittorio de Sica, dramatizes the human cost of the `racial laws' gradually implemented against the Jews in Fascist Italy during the years 1938-43. The more Bassani's young middle-class Jewish protagonist feels the brunt of Mussolini's anti-Semitic edicts encroaching upon him, the more he feels drawn to the aristocratic Jewish Finzi-Continis' estate -- their Edenic "garden" -- and to Micòl, the family's beautiful young daughter. Psychologically, this compulsion seems to stem from a deep emotional attachment to a perpetually innocent, untroubled state of childhood, which both Micòl and her garden seem to represent. Throughout the film, there is a marked conflict between childhood and adulthood, between the distant past and the immediate present, between the act of retreating into a world of comfortable illusions and confronting a world of harsh and bitter realities.
I found this particular aspect of the story very fascinating, although too tantalizingly obscure and open-ended -- and thus, not quite as illuminating or fulfilling as it might have been were it more clearly explained. (This could the reason why some people find the film -- and its heavily symbolic, impressionistic style -- a little confusing and underwhelming.)
For Giorgio -- both the naive hero and wisened author of the story -- Micòl embodies the mystery and allure of the Finzi-Continis, as well as their insularity and their apparent passivity in the face of the escalating Fascist crackdown. She always appears distant and unattainable, with no obvious reasons for her actions, and never really provides a direct, comprehensible explanation for her insistent rejection of Giorgio or for what appears to be a subtle streak of cruelty towards him. Her conversation with him always seems deliberately vague, and her refusal to make any further connection with him has a curious, almost perverse kind of fatalism about it. Again, this is another feature of the film that is certainly intriguing -- and strangely seductive -- but, alas, never quite pays off enough to become fully understandable to either the protagonist or the audience. When the Fascists finally do arrest the Finzi-Continis and confiscate their estate it comes as something of a surprise. The muted and deliberately spare representation of these characters and their feelings, as evidenced in their unusually restrained behavior, is meant to isolate and heighten the impact of a few devastating strokes of sudden realization and lucidity -- pointed indications that the protective spell of the Finzi-Continis has been finally broken.
All in all, well-acted and gorgeously, languidly poetic in its imagery...yet, narrative-wise, the picture seems overly elliptical and ultimately opaque -- and leaves just a few too many rough fragments and loose ends lingering at the end of the story (not quite Proustian irony, maybe?). In spite of this peculiar drawback, the film finishes very effectively, and by the final desolate shots, you are left with an unexpectedly intense feeling of loss and anguish. It is important to note, however, that the last scene -- in which Giorgio's father meets the Finzi-Continis in a detention center -- is fictitious and does not appear in the novel, and Bassani had a falling out with de Sica about this.
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