Wednesday 31 January 2024

The Night of the Shooting Stars (La Notte di San Lorenzo) (1982)


San Lorenzo natten

War is a terrible thing, there are not two ways about it. For an adult it is often difficult to comprehend. For a child, war is downright bizarre. “The Night of the Shooting Stars” (“La Notte di San Lorenzo”) tells the story of a war seen through the eyes of a six-year-old girl.

The movie takes the form of a mother telling her child of a war taking place a long time ago as she experienced it when she was a child herself. The war is the Second World War in 1944 when the front was somewhere in Tuscany and the retreating German army was wrecking as much destruction as they could get away with. In the town of San Martino, the German have selected a number of houses for demolition and told the inhabitants to seek shelter in the church. Some of the townspeople decide to disobey the order and leave the town at night to find the American. Those who go to the church gets blown up by the Germans.

Cecilia (Micol Guidelli) is a six-year-old girl who has joined the exodus with her mother (and the father, I think). We follow the group at large and meet a host of people and what they are experiencing is both strange and traumatic. The fighting, when it occurs, is barbaric and, in the eyes of Cecilia, often surrealist. Friends meet, but being on different sides in the war they shoot each other after their greetings. A bus drawn by horse are led by opera singing German soldiers, a fascist who kills Cecilia’s grandfather is killed by Achilles spear and so on. The Americans are never quite there, and disaster is always close if not present. Yet, in this nightmare there are also small wonders, such as a field of watermelons, American soldiers giving chocolate and balloon (?!) and the elderly Concetta (Margarita Lozano) and Galvano (Omero Antonutti) find each when they have lost everything else. It is a world that makes little sense on any level, but especially for Cecilia.

The special angle of the movie makes it a strange war movie. It is surreal, scattered and illogical, but in the way war is all that. It is full of people, real people, who talk (a lot, this is Italy), have feelings, dear ones, flaws and then suddenly die. There is no point to who dies and who lives, nothing is really fair, it just happens, as in the strange shoot-out in the wheat field. As we see all this from the little girl’s viewpoint, there is a certain innocence about it, as if people are just playing at war with each other and not really dead, yet we also see it as adults, the cruelty and tragedy of it.

“The Night of the Shooting Stars” is a beautiful movie to watch. The Tuscan landscape is sundrenched, and all colors are sharp and crisp, especially the matching dresses of Cecilia and her mother. Most of the people are smiling, sometimes even when they kill each other, and the wonder of things are in every image. This may be a nightmare, but it is also a great adventure at that eye-height.

As a viewer those feelings are conveyed to me. I sit back with equal amount of horror and wonder. A lot of it happens in glimpses, a lot makes little sense, not because of surrealism, but because from the child perspective we perceive certain highlights that the child see as important and so I often lack the context or the knowledge of the relations between each character. The position of both being a third person viewer and share the second person view of the girl is sometime confusing, but it also juxtaposes elements that are wildly differently perceived by the child and an adult.

War is really not for children, or for anybody, really, and what the movie seems to tell us is that children need to create this alternate reality to cope with it. That is both a wonder and a tragedy in its own right and while the movie does not go all in depressive, it is easy to perceive that beneath the surface of wonder, there is depth of mourning.

I am still undecided if I truly liked “The Night of Shooting Stars”. I am still a bit dizzy from watching it and trying to take it in, split, again, between wonder and sorrow. Then again, its success at conveying those feelings very much speaks for the movie.



  1. Such a great movie!

    Yesterday, I was thinking of making a list - World War II in 20 movies. I didn’t really get very far, just thinking of a few really good movies in general and several movies that really tackle the subject in a way that makes them essential to such a list - Triumph of the Will, Shoah, Tokyo Trial (1983), Black Rain - and then I started thinking about World War II in Italy … the first movie I thought of was Night of the Shooting Stars.

    1. The few movies about the war in Italy I know are mostly about facism. This felt a lot more real because there were no politics.