Reviews and notes
An island holiday, a pleasant villa, a piano and Verdi on the gramophone, mornings spent working on a book, afternoons on the beach with attractive wife and well-mannered daughter: it's a beguiling prospect, even if it is officially described as internment. But it is also, as Marco Leto has indicated, a moral holiday.
is historically fairly accurate (though it allows itself the minor liberty of post-dating the Lateran Treaty), but for all its quiet accumulation of historical detail it stands outside time and place. The core of Leto's film, gradually revealed as the narrative surface is stripped away, is a metaphor for political acquiescence. Franco Rossini is a university lecturer in Fascist Italy, cultured, humane, highly principled, yielding to no one (and particularly not to the dogmatic Stalinist with whom he clashes in debate) in his admiration for the liberal democrat Giolitti. But he is also the archetypal bourgeois liberal (for once the political cliche rings true), at any time and in any place. It is precisely the fact that his intern- ment is a kind of bliss which pinpoints both his role and his mostly untroubled acceptance of it. In fact, as the film makes devastatingly clear - and the revelation is the more devastating because of the unhurried, almost reticent manner in which Leto has structured the film - Rossini is less a political victim of a Fascist regime than a prisoner of his own class and his own mind.
Two encounters, one blossoming almost into friendship, the other abrupt and mostly hostile, define the nature and extent of this imprisonment. Rossini's social and academic background mark him out as a natural candidate for the benign, paternal, not quite patronising friendship of the island's police commissioner Rizzuto (a persuasively insidious performance by Adolfo Celi, all smiles and patient understanding, listening to Verdi as he censors the prisoners' letters). Rizzuto, unlike his fanatical blackshirt lieutenant, is no tyrant, but he is more than expert in the mechanics of tyranny, both personal and political, open and disguised. In Rossini he recognises a man of honour, but a man whose acceptance - and enjoyment - of his social privilege limits his protest to a gesture of principle. Hence the need to cultivate his prisoner, the favours bestowed, the piano procured from the church for Rossini's use, the slightly hesitant, always polite evening visits to the villa. No matter that this impeccably mannered, ever reasonable facade conceals a mind as ruthless as it is ingenious; after all, he tells Rossini, even Giolitti had tapped phones when he had to.
Leto orchestrates this relationship, founded on compromise and connivance, with quiet, telling precision, catching Rizzuto in the evening shadows as he waits outside Rossini's villa, following the two men at a discreet distance as they stroll along the bench. In contrast, Rossini's encounters with Scagnetti, a doctrinaire Communist uncompromisingly committed to change through violence, are short and sharp. It adds persuasion to the film, and to its lesson, that Scagnetti is unsympathetically portrayed, and that the only prisoner to refuse an order to hail the Duce is not the diehard Communist but an apparently insignificant little anarchist.
The effect of this, and it adds a sharper sting to the final sequence, is to concentrate the film (Leto's first feature) on Rossini, in himself a relatively impersonal character. But then that is the point. As a final title laconically informs us, Rossini has two possible appointments with death: in Spain, 1937, or in Italy, 1948 (when the Popular Front lost the election to the Christian Democrats). The choice is between that and the personal compromise, most expertly practised by the liberal bourgeoisie, which buttresses any class-based government, Fascist or not. Even Rizzuto knows that in time 'freedom' will return and he will choose a party to vote for. But the real political choice, the film has replied, is nothing if it is not also a moral choice.
-David Wilson, Sight and Sound, April 1975.
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