"Le Jardin des Finzi-Contini", on Arte: a masterpiece to see, review and reread

“Le Jardin des Finzi-Contini”, on Arte: a masterpiece to see, review and reread


See again The Finzi-Contini Garden (1970) is to plunge into endless reflection on the limits of the cinematic adaptation of a masterpiece of world literature. Either two indisputable geniuses: Giorgio Bassani (1916-2000), equivalent of a transalpine Proust; and Vittorio De Sica (1901-1974), who won the Golden Bear in Berlin and the Oscar for best foreign language film in 1971 with this film.

What link can there be between the trembling and misty universe of Bassani, entirely centered on the small Jewish community of Ferrara, in northern Italy, and that, more southern, of a director who has made himself the cantor Neapolitan identity?

The writer felt betrayed, even though he himself asked the director and took part in writing the screenplay. This tells the story of the inexorable confinement of a Jewish family which, as racial laws were promulgated in 1938 by Benito Mussolini, almost voluntarily shut themselves away in their large property, reinventing the ghetto, accepting the end tragedy awaits.

Few shades

The characters were standardized around a few character traits, presumably to improve narrative efficiency. Micoll (Dominique Sanda) seems to renounce love out of stubbornness, when it is the consciousness of his future destiny that is the cause; pale and feverish, Alberto (Helmut Berger), his brother, seems to be rehearsing future scenes from the Ludwig (1973), by Luchino Visconti. Malnate (Fabio Testi) isn’t he a little too manly, even if he embodies a proud communist militant? Finally, Giorgio (Lino Capolicchio) is, on the contrary, a little dull.

The tennis games, which bring together young people from the Jewish community excluded from their club, as well as their friends, on the property of the Finzi-Contini, are filmed, according to the criticism of World from December 1971, “with the flatness of a sports report”. Let’s say that no one among the actors knows how to hold a racket, whereas Bassani was a skilled player…

Ferrara, a city surrounded by its walls, is not very visible, whereas it is the essential element of the work of Bassani (who will call part of his work The Roman of Ferrara). “The betrayed garden”fulminated the writer, in a vitriolic article, furious at what he considered betrayals.

Half a century later, the film has lost none of its flaws. It probably lacks length and languor. An hour and a half is not enough to express the nuances, to make a setting and characters exist until they disappear. But these faults have the immense advantage of encouraging the (re)reading of a secret and powerful, trembling and diaphanous work of fiction, where the memory of reality is worth more than reality itself.

The Finzi-Contini Garden, by Vittorio De Sica (It.-Ger., 1970, 90 min). With Dominique Sanda, Helmut Berger, Lino Capolicchio. On Arte.tv until August 2. Documentary follow-up In search of the garden of the Finzi-Continiat 10:25 p.m.

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