Sadness permeates every frame of Vittorio De Sica's great The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970). The film follows
several families of prominent Italian Jews during the early years of World War II while their comforts, and ultimately their
freedoms, are slowly taken away. De Sica, known best for his neorealist masterpiece The Bicycle Thief (1948), was
able to wring every drop of emotion from his characters without overplaying the drama. Nearly every human emotion is
on display here: Joy, trauma, jealousy, fear, and longing. The impending doom offered by the increasingly aggressive
Fascist government is paralleled by the worsening romantic situation between lead characters Micol (Dominique Sanda) and
Giorgio (Lino Capolicchio).
Some modern viewers familiar with the clinical comprehensiveness of films like Schindler's List may find it
difficult to connect the abstract, emotional experiences here with the brutal realities of the Holocaust, but the effectiveness
of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis lies in what it doesn't show: The film ends long before the worst of the families'
experiences begin. The point here, seeing as how we know their fates before the film even begins, is in the understanding
where they come from. Repeated subtle references to blindness, deafness, and non-comprehension key us to the false lives
these wealthy socialites operate under. Even after they are expelled from the tennis club for being Jewish the Finzi-Continis
hold their own homegrown tennis tournament in their spectacular garden. In one brief, effective scene Giorgio revisits a
carnival stand that he knew from before the war. When the girl at the stand informs him of the dangers of being Jewish in
public, he looks around, suddenly noticing that the streets are filled with soldiers. How come he didn't notice them a
moment ago? Even politically informed Giorgio is capable of hiding the truth from his own eyes.
Running a short hour-and-a-half, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis is a tragic reminder of what can happen when
we take our rights and our lives for granted.
The widescreen video looks acceptable, if showing a relatively high amount of dirt and damage. The colors are muted, as
was probably the intent of the director, but the condition of the print, while not fatal, is sub par.
The Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is also acceptable. The mix is subtle, with long silent passages, but clear and easy to
hear. Optional English subtitles are also included.
Only some bios are provided as information on The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. Trailers for Shanghai
Triad, Dancing at Lughnasa, and The End of the Affair (1999 version) are also included.
A lyrical and thoughtful film, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis should definitely be viewed by those interested in
history, society, and how we live our lives.