Wednesday, July 16, 2014

522. Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini/The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970)

Running Time: 94 minutes
Directed By: Vittorio De Sica
Written By: Vittorio Bonicelli, from novel by Giorgio Bassani
Main Cast: Lino Capolicchio, Dominique Sanda, Helmut Berger, Fabio Testi, Romolo Valli


Today's my day off and I woke up extra early this morning to greet my wife lying beside me, as we both decided to do our own thing for a little while. Her watching her shows and me opting to tick another film off of the 1001 list, which is now at less than 175 movies to go. Today's feature: The Garden of the Finzi-Continis.

The film opens with a group of young friends (pre-college age) riding their bikes to the Finzi-Contini estate, a beautiful, walled property with acres and acres of trees, greenery and ultimately a mansion and tennis courts. The property is of course owned by the Finzi-Contini family, a well to do Jewish-Italian family, of which we meet the two younger Finzi-Continis: Alberto (Berger) and Micol (Sanda). Among the bikers is Giorgio (Capolicchio) who has a mad crush on Micol. Giorgio comes from less wealth, is also Jewish and has known Micol since the two were children, playing in the Finzi-Contini garden. Micol seems interested in him too, but gives him a hard time about getting close to her - sometimes welcoming his advances, other times giving him the cold shoulder. Meanwhile, new edicts from Mussolini are handed down via the local newspaper: no Jews are to marry outside of their religion, nor are they allowed to employ domestic help. Thanks to their social status, the Finzi-Continis aren't too bothered by the news and go about their business without a care. When Micol goes away, Giorgio who vowed to her never to return to the property, becomes a frequent visitor to the Finzi-Contini home, as the older members of the family allow him to use their library (since Jews are no longer allowed to use the public library). Later, as Girogio returns from visiting his brother in France, he realizes that the pressures of political resistance are heightening.


Can't say I loved it or anything, but will say De Sica has a way of getting his political points across without completely marring his films with the stuff. Take The Bicycle Thief for instance, a story intended to symbolize growing communism and a shining example of Italian neorealism. Those are mighty big words to the average movie going Joe and something that's bound to be off putting too. However, if you look at the surface of The Bicycle Thief, you have a perfectly fine story about a man who gets his bike stolen during a time when his bicycle is his bread & butter. It's sort of the same situation here (to lesser effect, however), as we get a perfectly acceptable story about adolescents basking in their youth, while an invisible countdown clock ticks down in the background. The BOOK notes that these youngsters enjoy their "last revelries" and that's exactly the story that De Sica is trying to get across, or at least the one that he got across to me.

My favorite scene, where Giorgio finds Micol lying naked with Bruno, staring at him with an icy stare. They say so much in their exchange of glances. Sanda was incredibly provocative in this.

The actual garden of the Finzi-Continis represents a great memory, a fond recollection that these characters (if they live) will look back on and it's really a "you can't go home again" scenario. Giorgio, if he makes it through the war, will one day as an old man remember many horrors surely. He'll cry when he speaks about his father who will probably die in a concentration camp and then his mind will shift to the Finzi-Continis, whom he'll also cry about at first. Then he'll remember those days on the estate, the giant dog, those budding trees that grandma brought back from holiday and that time he and Micol escaped a rain storm to sit in the back of a carriage. He'll recall that time he spotted Micol is a post coital state, lying nude beside Bruno. He'll realize then that his father was right, that the sting eventually went away and that now it's just a memory - a happy one compared to the horrors that his family witnessed.

All in all, I can't go full throttle on my recommendation, but it's certainly a fine film and was a fine way to spend an hour and a half. I always enjoy old movies from France, Italy or any other European countries, as I just love looking at all the old architecture, wondering how long these building had been standing and whether they're still standing. The score to this is also another thing to gush about, as it's such a brilliant one.  The replaying of the tune "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" was a beautiful touch and collaborated well with the gorgeous Dominique Sanda, as she donned her white heels and laid on a bed, eyeing Giorgio. I'm sure I've heard that tune in a Woody Allen movie before, if not, it's just like something he'd use. Am I crazy or did Romolo Valli look just like Robert De Niro? A fine actor too. Actually, the whole cast was fine and after seeing both this and The Bicycle Thief and enjoying both, I realize I really need to take in more De Sica.

RATING: 6.5/10  Good, but I've seen better. Still nothing to dread here if you're a prospective BOOK watcher and most will probably get more out of it than I did. I'm just not that knowledgeable on foreign history and always worry that that's why I have a hard time easing into these films.


Badlands (1973 - Terrence Malick)
Days of Heaven (1978 - Terrence Malick)
Story of Women (1988 - Claude Chabrol)
Hill 24 Doesn't Answer (1955 - Thorold Dickinson)

July 16, 2014  3:24pm


  1. Fair enough Andrew..
    This was one settled down to watch with confidence I would enjoy it..
    Well, it was OK.. Some very good points and moments.. but to my disappointment it didn't sweep me away.

    1. So we agree? Seems like it's been a while since that's happened. I'll take it!


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