Based on the novel by Giorgio Bassani, Il giardino dei Finzi Contini (The Garden of the Finzi-Continis) is the story of an upper-class Jewish family living in Ferrera, Italy during the time of Fascist Italy as they deal with the growing political turmoil of the times. Directed by Vittorio De Sica and screenplay by Vittorio Bonicelli and Ugo Pirro with un-credited contributions by de Sica, Franco Brusati, Alain Katz, Tullio Pinelli, Cesare Zavattini, and Valerio Zurlini, the film is an exploration of a family whose lives are changed by Fascism as they find themselves lost with the young family members trying to find joy. Starring Lino Capolicchio, Dominique Sanda, Helmut Berger, Romolo Valli, and Fabio Testi. Il giardino dei Finzi Contini is a ravishing and somber film from Vittorio De Sica.
Set in the small town of Ferrera, Italy from 1938 to 1943, the film is an exploration of the life of an upper-class Jewish family who live nearby the home of a richer Jewish family known as the Finzi-Continis whose lavish garden is an idyllic landscape that becomes an escape during the growth of Fascism in Italy. The film is an exploration of the lives of these two upper-class Jewish families as one of them is in love with the daughter of the richer family ever since they were children as they deal with the growing world around them with this lavish garden being a place of wonder. The film’s screenplay by Vittorio Bonicelli and Ugo Pirro does feature bits of flashback as it relates to its two young leads in Giorgio (Lino Capolicchio) and Micol Finzi-Contini (Dominique Sanda) who knew each other as kids with the latter’s family home being this haven where they can play tennis and have fun at this lavish garden that includes Micol’s younger brother Alberto (Helmut Berger) and their friend Giampiero Malnate (Fabio Testi).
The first act is about the life of the Finzi-Continis and the garden that is their escape with the second act being about Giorgio’s pursuit of Micol as she rejects him believing he’s not good enough for her. Even as the second act also play into this chaos with Italy becoming a more Fascist state with Giorgio’s father Beniamino (Romolo Valli) trying to keep the family together as he sends his younger son Ernesto (Raffaele Curri) to France to study. It also play into the world that is crumbling where Giorgio had already been expelled from the tennis club and later a library where he is unable to study because he is Jewish while interracial marriages are also banned. The film explore Giorgio’s own encounter with the real world while Micol has isolated herself in the family home not wanting to deal with the real world with Alberto becoming ill. The third act does play into Italy entering World War II as life for Jews become more difficult with Giorgio pleading with Micol to be with him while also coming to terms that life will never be the same as the garden itself is a shell of its former self.
Vittorio De Sica’s direction is definitely full of gorgeous imagery and a sense of realism as it is shot largely on location in Ferrera with some of it in Venice with the garden shot at the park of Villa Ada near Rome. De Sica’s usage of the wide and medium shots do help play into the many locations in the film but also the world that is the garden at the Finzi-Contini estate where many of the young people play tennis and involve themselves with many activities as a way to escape from this growing threat of war that is to come. Even as De Sica would maintain this air of intimacy in the direction with the medium shots and close-ups inside the homes of Giorgio’s family and the Finzi-Continis where it showed a world where Giorgio’s family do perform certain Jewish traditions while the latter maintain this presentation of being posh and not overtly Jewish to raise concerns with the authorities.
De Sica also play into this sense of beauty that is the Finzi-Contini estate from the road way outside their home where Giorgio would ride his bike on as well as where he would park his bike and climb over its wall. The garden is the centerpiece of this estate filled with trees including a few palm trees and other things as it is a place where everyone can escape from the real world yet as the film progresses. The garden becomes less idyllic despite the beauty it presents itself but without many people there. It doesn’t feel the same as the third act has an air of coldness that looms along with a sense of danger in the fact that anyone who is Jewish, communist, or not wanting to be a part of this world of Fascist Italy is fucked. De Sica’s ending is ambiguous as it relates to the fate of characters but it also presents a world that is lost and could never return with those also filled with regret of the future they could’ve had. Overall, De Sica crafts an intoxicating yet harrowing film about two upper-class Jewish families dealing with the growing changes in Fascist Italy.
Cinematographer Ennio Guarnieri does amazing work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of soft lighting for a few interior scenes along with some natural and lush lighting for the scenes at the garden during the spring and summer as well as low-key lighting for the scenes at night and in the winter time. Editor Adriana Novelli does excellent work with the editing with some stylish jump-cuts for some of the bike ride scenes through the forest as well as a few montages including some of the flashbacks as it play into Giorgio and Micol’s time as teenagers. Production/costume designer Giancarlo Bartolini Salimbeni and set decorator Franco D’Andria does brilliant work with the look of the homes of Giorgio’s family with its modest furniture that is a sharp contrast to the more spacious interiors at the Finzi-Contini estate with its large library where Giorgio is allowed to study while the costumes are also exquisite in the posh dresses that Micol wears that is another sharp contrast to the modest suits that Giorgio wears.
Hair stylist Anna Cristofani and makeup artist Giulio Natalucci do fantastic work with the different hairstyles that Micol would wear throughout the film as it went from stylish to eventually becoming less so as the film progresses. The special effects work of Ettore Catalucci is terrific for some of the minimal shots that play into Alberto’s own sickly state as well as imagery to help make the film feel dreamlike. The sound work of Max Galinsky and Massimo Loffredi, with additional work for its restoration by Stefano Di Fiore, is superb for the sound as it help play into the atmosphere of the locations including the town with the speech over the declaration of war from Italy being a key moment. The film’s music by Manuel De Sica, with additional contributions by Bill Conti, is incredible for its lush and somber orchestral-piano score that play into the drama and romantic tension that looms throughout the film as well as themes that are upbeat that play into happier moments as it is a highlight of the film.
The film’s wonderful ensemble cast feature some notable small roles from Giampaolo Duregon as a friend of the Finzi-Contis in Bruno, Marcella Gentile as Giorgio’s young sister Fanny, Raffaele Curi as Giorgio’s younger brother Ernesto who goes to France to study, Barbara Pilavin as Giorgio’s mother, Ettore Gere as the majordomo Perotti, Inna Alexeievna as Alberto and Micol’s grandmother, Katina Morisani as Alberto and Mico’s mother, Cinzia Bruno as the young Micol, Alessandro D’Alatri as the young Giorgio, and Camillo Cesarei as Ermanno Finzi-Conti as the patriarch of the Finzi-Contini who allowed Giorgio to study in his library as he always liked Giorgio feeling he is a good match for Micol and a good friend to Alberto.
Romolo Valli is excellent as Giorgio’s father as a businessman who is proud of his Jewish heritage but would hide during the growth of Fascism as he is concerned for Giorgio as it relates to Micol as well as what will happen to the family knowing something is going wrong. Fabio Testi is brilliant as Giampiero Malnate as a family friend of the Finzi-Contis who is also a communist that isn’t fond of Fascism while he would later lament over the state of the Finzi-Conti with being isolated as he would be called up to military service as he and Giorgio also deal the world around them. Helmut Berger is amazing as Micol’s younger brother Alberto as a young man who idolized Malnate and love Giorgio as a friend as he also deals with illness while becoming aware of some of the drama involving Micol and Giorgio.
Lino Capolicchio is incredible as Giorgio as a young man from an upper-class Jewish family who is in love with Micol and wants to spend the rest of his life with her as he also deals with the changes around him as he’s kicked out of clubs and university because he’s Jewish as he also laments over everything as well as this paradise that is the Finzi-Conti garden that becomes less idyllic. Finally, there’s Dominique Sanda in a phenomenal performance as Micol Finzi-Conti as a young woman who is a childhood friend of Giorgio as someone who is trying to distance herself from the real world while isolating herself as a way to shield from that reality including Giorgio feeling that he’s not good enough for her. Even as she deals with the reality that she and her family eventually have to face as well as what she could’ve had.
Il giardino dei Finzi Contini is a magnificent film from Vittorio De Sica. Featuring a great ensemble cast, ravishing visuals, its themes of isolation and longing during a tumultuous time in Italy’s history, and a rich music score by Manuel De Sica. It is a film that explore life in Fascist Italy just before and during World War II as well as its effects on two upper-class Jewish families where one deal with what is happening while another is trying to not see the truth. In the end, Il giardino dei Finzi Contini is an outstanding film from Vittorio De Sica.
Vittorio De Sica Films: (Rose scarlatte) - (Maddalena, zero in condotta) - (Teresa Venerdi) - (Un garibaldino al convento) - (The Children Are Watching Us) - (La porta del cielo) - (Shoeshine) - (Heart and Soul (1948 film)) - Bicycle Thieves - (Miracle in Milan) – Umberto D. - (It Happened in the Park) - (Terminal Station) - (The Gold of Naples) - (The Roof) - (Anna of Brooklyn) - Two Women (1960 film) - (The Last Judgment) - (Boccaccio ‘70) - (The Condemned of Altona) - (Il Boom) - Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow - Marriage Italian Style - (Un monde nouveau) - (After the Fox) - (Woman Times Seven) - (Le streghe) - (A Place for Lovers) - (Sunflowers (1970 film)) - (Lo chiameremo Andrea) - (A Brief Vacation) - (The Voyage)
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