1970. Vittorio de Sica directed what is unanimously regarded as his last great movie. The script was written, let's not forget it, by Valerio Zurlini, whose work MUST be rediscovered, among which « Violente estate » and «La ragazza con la valigia ».
The scene is set in Ferrare, not long befor the war.
The film starts in the fertile splendor of summer : flowers, fruits, plentiness. The script list unfolds in a sweet and beautiful hazy light, which is the very 70's visual mark of the movie.
Beautiful young people dressed in white are cycling near a big property enclosed in high walls. They come to play a tennis tournament at the Finzi-Contini's, a wealthy Jewish family. The gate opens, we get in the park. Splendid trees, wide alleyways, everything is shining !
On the one hand, budding love stories, on the other hand, the war that everyone knows is close. Are they totally unaware or just carefree, these young people who long and crave for each other, who talk exams and poetry, and seem to forget the world around them ?
They are Micol, Giorgio, Bruno, Alberto.
Since he was a child Giorgio has been in love with Micol. She knows and cares for him but prefers giving herself to Bruno, before he leaves for the eastern front. Alberto, for his part, might love Bruno but does he even know it ? He suffers from a mysterious disease and has fits of suffocation. Difficult to breathe in the Italy of those years.
The plot is settled. History is on the march. It's at the movie house that we discover it, through news reels. It litterally tells us that cinema is not a place of innocence but of revelation. We see military parades, war reports, heralding what is to come. We see walls crumbling down.
Paradise/the garden, is by essence a place of exclusion. And each garden has a « fall », each fruit has a worm. Each nice weather is followed by a storm, which in the story eventually breaks out, scattering people in all directions, rendering a shelter urgent, just like a liquid war.
In the movie, the disappearance of characters is remarkable because it is sudden and brutal. However familiar they have become, they cease to be here. They are friends, parents, schoolmates. They die at home, at the war, they flee, and simply they are off. Period.
As I said, there are many walls in the movie, real or imaginary ones. The walls you erect between you and the world, the walls of hatred and money, the walls of the law that little by little exclude the Jews from libraries, tennis clubs, jobs, mixed marriages... the wall of silence that nobody breaks anymore. It's on a wall that Girogio sees Micol for the first time, the walls of the garden, inside which they enjoy the last moments of innocence, they play, discuss poetry. Micol casts an often absent look on all this. She is writing a memoir on Emily Dickinson, and thus knows what is loneliness, absence, unshared love.
Eventually, nothing saves you from men's madness which comes to drag you away from your walls to better imprison you in theirs. But there are certain walls that you never set yourself free from.
The beauty of youth, of their bodies and minds, the softness of the persisting light, the quiet and melancholic beauty of Ferrare, all this adds to the vastness of the horror to come.
« For us... » says Micol to Giorgio « what matters is not possessing things but their remembrance, their memory. » Though she is young, she already has the premonition of the importance of memory, in the times to come.
After the heat of summer, comes winter. We cast a last glance at Ferrare under the snow, which leaves the page blank and the memory in mourning.