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My last movie for 1970 is “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” (“Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini”). This is a movie by Vittirio De Sica, who was a frequent character on the List in the 1950’ies, but largely disappeared in the 1960’ies.
In this movie we meet a group of young people playing tennis in the walled off garden of the wealthy and sophisticated Finzi-Contini family. We learn that the Finzi-Contini are Jewish and gathering people in their garden is their means to continue to socialize with the outside world. Inside the garden bubble people are neither Jewish nor gentiles but just young people frolicking.
There is particular focus on the son and daughter of the Finzi-Contini, Alberto (Helmut Berger) and Micòl (Dominique Sanda). Alberto is weak with a poor heart and Micòl is the happy one, admired by many. One of her admirers is her childhood friend Giorgio (Lino Capolicchio). Giorgio is from a middle-class Jewish family who does not have the luxury of isolating in their little bubble and therefore are more affected by the race laws of Fascist Italy.
Most of the movie is about their relationship, Giorgio worshipping Micòl and Micòl holding off Giorgio. Obviously Micòl wants something more juicy than the humble Giorgio and Giorgio cannot get into his head that Micòl is just not into him. Sounds fairly plain. What is special here is the environment in which this little drama plays out. The much bigger drama of the Holocaust is a faint thing in the beginning, especially in the garden, and is largely ignored by the youngsters, but slowly it is growing until it becomes overwhelming and even then the instinct of the young people is to keep it at distance. Only in the end it becomes the great equalizer where name and rank mean nothing in the face of horror.
It is this melancholy sense of paradise lost pervading this movie that makes watching it a special and rare experience. Their small problems and squabbles mean so little and take up all their concern as for most young people and this insistence on their personal and mundane affairs becomes defiance against the greater evil. The photography here is simply brilliant.
My sole problem with the movie was that it was very difficult to keep track on the various characters. Most of them seemed to blend for me and only in retrospect reading the plot summary on Wikipedia did the pieces fall into place. That is a major frustration watching something you do not quite understand. Even now I am wondering who the guy is the Nazis are picking up near the end. Is it Giorgio? Or somebody else? I did not think it looked like Giorgio, but who else then? The problem is that it changes the interpretation of the final scenes. If anybody knows, please help me out here.
“The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” won the Academy award for Best Foreign Language film and the Golden Bear in Berlin. For the ambience alone this seems like a good pick. I left this movie with exactly the feeling of sadness and loss that is intended with this kind of movie and the picture of the family split up, walking into separate class rooms held as much poignancy as watching them enter the gas chambers.