The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

If you would like to expand your knowledge of film by learning more about the great giants of Italian cinema, I recommend the films of Vittoria De Sica. As an actor and as a director, he has elegance, humanity, and compassion. He can tell a straightforward narrative story without unnecessary artiness or confusing symbolism, and he likes people more than cinema artifice. To me, these qualities have always made DeSica the true genius of postwar Italian film. 

I've never been crazy about Fellini's films. I like to read about them, and I like to scan through the images, but the films themselves can be downright unwatchable, and so abstract as to defy you to identify with any characters. 

Some of Antonioni's films - frankly, I don't even know what they are about. I still can't make any sense out of Blow-Up. I don't mean to suggest that he is a poseur, not at all, but he's opaque.

Bertolucci is a great filmmaker, and I love some of his movies like The Last Emperor and Last Tango, but he just seems so aloof from his subject matter, so objective.

De Sica, on the other hand, wants us to laugh and cry and enjoy the story. My kind of guy. In fact, he embodies all of the reasons why Italy is such a wonderful place to visit, and why Italians are great hosts as well as great guests. He's warm, generous, curious, funny, and loves to create visual beauty. You'd have a great time if De Sica invited you to dinner.  


The exquisite beauty Dominique Sanda was topless in one scene. In another, she was braless in a wet t-shirt 
The Finzi-Continis were a wealthy Jewish family in Ferrara before the war. They hid in their palace, behind the walls of their great estate, and created their own world as a refuge from the ever more onerous regulations imposed on Jews by the Fascist government. Those walls seemed to convince them that they could erect a barrier against Fascist abuses as well. Because they were good Italians, respected, and beloved members of the community, they felt that the horrors they had heard about could never happen to them. They also felt that Italy could never descend to the barbarism of the Nazis. They ignored sign after sign, until one day the police drove right through their great gates, destroyed their false sense of security, and rounded them up with all the other Jews.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1

  • no meaningful features

It's a special movie. It moves slowly, but the photography is beautiful, and the story uses almost no speeches to make its point, relying instead on an economical and chronological progression of events. There are even some wordless scenes in which the pictures tell the entire story.

There are plenty of period details, and spectacular Italian locales, in an evocation of a very special privileged world that existed before the war, and would be completely destroyed, just as the refinement of Europe was poisoned and destroyed by the war and its accompanying anti-Semitism. Particularly poignant is the fact that the family's daughter, Micol, is attracted to the brutal brownshirts, forsaking the love of her scholarly and gentle childhood friend to take on a secret Nazi lover. 

A few of the characters are too hastily sketched, but I think the film's greatest strength is that it manages to evoke the feeling of the characters, the way they ignored reality, their hope that things wouldn't be that bad, and their sense of the enormity of the changes that befell their world in such a short period. 

The Critics Vote

  • Berardinelli 3/4, Maltin 4/4

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 20 articles on file.

  • won the Oscar for Best Foreign-language Film

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 8.1 
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B.

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