Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

The Garden of the Finzi-Contini's

It was certainly good to see Vittorio De Sica back with a popular and highly-regarded film in 1970 - when the likes of Pasolini and soon Fassbinder ruled the arthouse scene. THE GARDEN OF THE FINZI-CONTINI'S from Giorgio Bassani's novel was a commercial success, and won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. [His 1973 A BRIEF VACATION with Florinda Bolkan only ever surfaced on television in the UK and we never saw his last THE VOYAGE, in '74 with Burton and Loren, until only recently - I shall have to get around to reviewing that too].

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 politic forces close in to end their idyll.

Helmut Berger & Fabio Testi
First the tennis club is off bounds to the Jewish community - so the gilded youth we see at the start have their long tennis afternoons at the gardens of the Finzi-Contini's, safe behind their high walls. Giorgio remains hopelessly in love with Micol but she sees him like a brother.  Her own brother Alberto (Helmut Berger) slowly succumbs to some malady ...
Berger & Sanda
Giorgio's brother gets away to study in France as Giorgio visits him at Grenoble with some family money. We see and share their father's concern at how events are moving, while the Finzi-Contini family seem to ignore what is happening outside their walled estate. They're different from the other Jews due to wealth and privilege. They hardly seem to know, or even care, that their rights are slowly being taken away. De Sica orchestrates events magisterially as the langurous mood at the start changes to darker colours and hues. It is only a 90 minute film but it takes it time setting up the mood and events. 

Dominique Sanda with her large, soft eyes is mesmerizing as the beautiful, enigmatic, but icy and rather malicious Micol - this role and FIRST LOVE, THE CONFORMIST, 1900 etc made her one of the great European stars of the 70s. Lino Capolicchio is her boyhood friend Giorgio whom she does not see in a romantic light - he almost forces himself on her at one stage .... Fabio Testi is Bruno Malnate that other friend who fares better with Micol, but is then sent to the Russian front ... and Paolo Stoppa plays Giorgio's worried father. The final scenes of the round ups of the Jews is effective, with De Sica's mastery evident as Micol comforts her aged grand-mother.  One wonders once again at these kind of stories why they did not escape in time or resist more forcefully ...

This is as affecting as that great 1966 Czech film Kadar's THE SHOP ON MAIN STREET - another one I must return to...along with Wertmuller's SEVEN BEAUTIES in '75 (one of the great '70s films), and that recent 1961 re-discovery THE LONG NIGHT OF '43 -and Bolognini's GRAN BOLLITO, reviews at Italian label, also about the rise of Fascism in Italy, and of course Visconti's '69 opus THE DAMNED. I have Bassani's novel - I shall now have to include it in my summer reading....

That concludes my summer arthouse revivals - now for some lurid Eurotrash .... and some more recent releases and more People We Like and Movies We Love ....


  1. Brilliant & needed showcasing of De Sica, thank you Michael. His films tackle humanity's lack of insight for oncoming doom, alternately showing resilience through characters' materially impoverished yet knowing wisdom. Even in themed darkness a beautiful immersion.

    Fingers crossed for a future look at Bertolucci's ' Il Conformista', another Fascist theme with Dominique Sanda & Trintignant, perhaps Bertolucci's best film ? On with your excellent variety.

  2. Thanks again Emma. It has been interesting going back to re-discover BICYCLE THIEVES, UMBERTO D and AU HASARD BALTHAZAR - often seen as 'difficult' or 'high brow' or 'painful' films to watch, but I found them all engrossing and emotional and very rewarding experiences.

    I covered THE CONFORMIST a while ago, as per review at Dominique Sanda label.