Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis

(Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini, Italy, 1971)

“Garden?” I’d say that’s a slight understatement. Just a bit bigger and it could have issued its own postage stamps, like Monaco. I wouldn’t go for a hike in that garden without a compass and a good supply of emergency food. You could easily get lost and never be found again.

The F-Cs are a wealthy family in Ferrara. You might call them aristocrats except for the fact that they are Jews. Mussolini is in power, and like the ass-kissing lickspittle toad that he was, he is ramping up the anti-Jewish laws in Italy to please the Führer. The main effect this seems to have on the F-C family is that they can no longer hire Aryan help because they are not allowed to work for Jews. This puts a little cramp in their style. But by and large, they are a lot more concerned with improving their tennis game than with what is happening outside their high stone walls.

The main action happening at the F-C estate is a tragic love story between Micòl Finzi-Contini (the lovely Dominique Sanda) and her childhood friend, Georgio, two characters I could hardly have cared less about. Then one day it all comes crashing down, and they are forced from their mansion with only one suitcase, and sent to an empty school to wait for the trains that that will take them to summer camp. Then it’s over.

It is a little odd to me that she is French, and her brother is Helmut Berger, an Austrian. But that’s how they did it in Italy (and may still do, for all I know). The Italian voices were dubbed in later.

I will confess to a prejudice here. Not against Jews, not at all. I have sometimes wished that I was Jewish. I find their company slightly better, on average, than Christians, of which I am an ex-. No, it’s against the rich. Now, it’s possible, maybe even probable, that Vittorio De Sica and the author of the novel this was based on were sending some sort of message here in telling the story of these spoiled idlers. But I didn’t get it. I understand that, when it comes to emotional agony and matters of the heart, the rich suffer just as the poor do. In the end we all take the same journey from the cradle to the grave. But it’s a lot easier to suffer in a first-class compartment rather than riding under the train.