The Garden of the Finzi-Continis – 1970
aka Il giardino dei Finzi Contini
Vittorio De Sica
Giorgio Bassani – novel
Review by Zetes
Certainly a very good film, but not the masterpiece everyone has touted it as being (8/10),
There are many, many movies about WWII, both about the battles and about the condition of life for the people involved, especially the situation of the Jews in Europe. When someone makes a movie on this latter subject, it is very difficult for anyone to criticize it. 1998’s Life is Beautiful received some criticism, but mainly because it contained comic elements where people felt there should be only tragedy.
But if the film is a drama, then it is basically untouchable by critics and viewers. And as for this film itself, it was directed by an old master who had been out of it for a while. Even if the film was terrible, there was no way, when it came out in the early 70s, that anyone was going to call it less than a masterpiece, an instant classic, if you will.
Well, this film is in no way terrible. In fact, it is very good. It affected me enough where I did tear up a bit. I was touched at certain points. But I also was acutely aware of some of the film’s shortcomings as I watched.
First off, the reason why I teared up, i.e., what I did like about the film especially: the relationship between Georgio and Micol. I connected with it instantly because I have been through similar circumstances. It is rather painful, let me tell you. I longed for Micol right along side with Georgio, and felt utterly rejected simultaneously with him. This is the way one should experience a great film. There were two more relationships that were really well developed and deeply felt by me, both involving Georgio: Georgio and his father, a very good character played by a marvelous actor, and Georgio and Malnate.
The rest of the characters were very sloppily made. Did Alberto Finzi-Contini exist for any other reason than to create that great funeral procession scene? He was barely in the movie at all. I had thought they had forgotten him for a long time, then they finally came back to him, and he was next to death. The Finzi-Contini family was hardly existent. I thought the father was a butler until very near the end of the film. A cheap joke is made about the centegenarian grandmother’s inability to hear well (although this character had a very poignant scene at the very end of the film).
Possibly the biggest problem of the film is that the scenes dealing with anti-Semitism and the onset of war never really coalesced with the problems surrounding Micol’s and Georgio’s relationship. The latter theme dominated the film, while the former only appeared in the background. This structure would have been fine, but the background section of the film never seemed to influence much the foreground. Georgio could have just as easily have fallen in love with Micol without the war going on. This is not what puts stress on their relationship.
Possibly the main theme that de Sica was trying to get through in the film was that our personal lives do not naturally care about what is happening in society, but society keeps trying to push its way into our personal lives. Unfortunately, it only works to a certain extent. The film was too short for its subject matter. It is only 94 minutes long. If it had been two hours or even two and a half, the two parts would have fit together better and the main theme would have been a lot more potent. One of my very favorite films has the exact same theme: _The Unbearable Lightness of Being_, where people attempt to love each other in Czechoslovakia while the Soviets oppress them.
It is three hours long, and it works on every level. In _The Garden of the Finzi-Contini_, there is not even time for a proper conclusion. Micol’s story is finished, or at least as finished as it needs to be, but what happened to Georgio? His father just informs us that he left. Why can’t we see him leave? We don’t need an enormous explanation from him, but just a subtle scene, as is the film’s style, where he packs and talks to his mother maybe. Surely he hasn’t gotten Micol out of his mind that quickly. I realize it was in his best interests to get the heck out of Italy right away, but I can’t believe he doesn’t at least think for a moment whether or not he should do something on Micol’s behalf. I’m fine that he doesn’t.
I would bet that in the novel, this sort of scene appears. It should have also been in the film. I give the film an 8/10, mostly for the true-to-life pain it caused me concerning the one-sided love.