Jun 14, 2018

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis

I never thought I would say it, but recently I saw a holocaust film that I found to be rather aesthetically alluring and traditionally beautiful to the point where I watched it no less than three times in one week to make sure that I was not hallucinating. Of course, leave it to Italy—a country that has somehow managed to elevate sleazy horror, western, and action genre trash to the level of art—to be responsible for such an inordinate cinematic work that seems like it was made with more intent than to simply spread the gospel of the (anti)Occidental post-religion of holocaustianity. Indeed, Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini (1970) aka The Garden of the Finzi-Continis directed by Italian neorealist maestro Vittorio De Sica (Bicycle Thieves, Umberto D. ) is an excellent example of what happens when a real artist projects his own humanity onto the plight and suffering of an alien people that could not have done a better job on their own, but of course it was naturally produced by chosenites, including Arthur Cohn, Gianni Hecht Lucari, and Artur Brauner. The first film that the auteur directed after becoming estranged from his regular screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, De Sica's strangely delectable feature is based on the semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Ferrarese Jew Giorgio Bassani, who notoriously loathed the film adaptation. On top of being uniquely unkosher in its direction and overall execution, the film features the patently absurd novelty of featuring highly attractive (and mostly blond) Aryans with mostly noble demeanors portraying rich spoiled Jews that are just too decadent and terminally introverted to sense the rise of fascist antisemitism. In short, the film was clearly made to cater to tendencies of a naive all-goy audience, as if it would be too much of an aesthetic risk to feature real live Jews portraying Jews (at the very least, they could have cast handsome half-heeb Vittorio Gassman). In fact, while the film features characters sporting Star of David necklaces, synagogues, and various references to the growing tide of Hitler-inspired Italian fascist antisemitism, I was never able to truly able to embrace complete suspension of disbelief and sincerely feel that I was watching a movie about the holocaust, thus underscoring De Sica’s innate dedication to humanism and cinematic art. In short, I was somehow able to rather enjoy the film in spite of its Hebraic holocaust theme. 

 Winner of various coveted awards, including the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1972 and the Golden Bear at the 21st Berlin International Film Festival in 1971, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis was indubitably a comeback film of sorts for auteur Vittorio De Sica, who had not had a hit since Matrimonio all'italiana (1964) aka Marriage Italian Style and spent a number of years directing mostly worthless mainstream comedies after long abandoning his neorealist roots due to commercial success. While it would be an exaggeration to say that the film is as good as his previous masterpieces like Ladri di biciclette (1948) aka Bicycle Thieves, Miracolo a Milano (1951) aka Miracle in Milan, and Umberto D. (1952), it is arguably De Sica’s last great film, though some less kind critics were not that at all impressed, including David Thomson, who argued in The New Biographical Dictionary of Film (1975), “But his work in the 1960s was slick and tasteless. The pictorial grace and the emotional severity were both abandoned in a serious of concocted comedies about sexual hypocrisy. THE GARDEN OF THE FINZI-CONTINIS was a regeneration only in that it was a serious, literary subject that de Sica transcribed with rather hollow rectitude. He stands now as a minor director.” To Thomson’s credit, the film does seem a bit flaccid and pathos-poor when compared to the auteur’s masterpieces, but there is not denying its great enrapturing pulchritude and somewhat provocative depiction of Italian Jewry, which are certainly the main reasons I enjoyed it.  Indeed, forget the sappy sentimentalism and silly humor of Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful (1997), De Sica's film thankfully never feels like a gross exercise in emotional manipulation as the Dead Sea Pedestrians are depicted with great sensitivity to character flaws, warts and all.

 It is has been speculated that the 15th-century Italian noblewoman Simonetta Vespucci—a blonde beauty that tragically died at the mere age of 22 who was regarded as the most beauteous woman in Northern Italy during her time—acted as the inspiration for a number of famous painting, probably most notably The Birth of Venus (1484-1486) by Sandro Botticelli. Undoubtedly, French fashion model turned actress Dominique Sanda was a sort of equivalent to Vespucci in terms of late-1960s/1970s European arthouse cinema as the always stunning star of such important cinematic works as Robert Bresson’s Une femme douce (1969) aka A Gentle Woman, Bernardo Bertolucci’s Il conformist (1970) aka The Conformist and Novecento (1976) aka 1900, and Fred Haines’ underrated Hermann Hesse adaptation Steppenwolf (1974), among various other examples. Simply due to her sheer beauty, Sanda even manages to virtually steal the entire show in her all too brief uncredited cameo in Luchino Visconti’s late era anti-jet-set flick Gruppo di famiglia in un interno (1974) aka Conversation Piece. Undoubtedly, if Sanda demonstrated any great talent, it was portraying a deceptively elegant, slightly venomous, and strangely sophisticated cocktease, which she does to great effect in de Sica’s film as a terminally spoiled and deceptively frigid wealthy young Jewess who ultimately rejects the romantic propositions of her lifelong Judaic friend for a much more masculine and aggressive guido of the hopelessly hairy goyish commie sort.

 Indeed, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis—a film set on the eve of the Second World War in 1938 Ferrara, Italy—is the beauteously bittersweet story of a young lovelorn Jewish writer the faces the dually degrading experience of being repeatedly rejected by the woman he loves while he and his people face discrimination from the increasingly counter-kosher fascist government. Oftentimes feeling more like a strangely warm dystopian romance as directed by the wop grandpa of John Hughes than the typical Spielbergian celluloid shoah showcase, the film ultimately succeeds where most holocaust movies fail in that the Jewish characters, who are all conspicuously flawed, do not seem like an exotic ‘other’ that the viewer is expected to virtually worship in a mystical fashion. On top of successfully humanizing the eternal Hebrew, the film thankfully does not dwell on depicting dagos as dastardly demons worthy of eternal damnation, but I guess one should not expect anything less from a filmmaker that got his start during the fascist era. If the film has a villain, it is not an individual but instead collective fear and apathy, which of course are universal emotions. 

 Naturally, as a (quite regrettably) college-educated American, virtually every true blue Israelite that I have ever encountered was relatively rich and spoiled. Indeed, the denigrative weaponized label “white privilege” that is oftentimes used by Judaic cultural Marxist types that pretend to be white like Tim Wise, Noel Ignatiev, and their spiritually castrated shabbos goy lackeys would certainly be an apt description for the average American Jew. While the characters in The Garden of the Finzi-Continis are also plagued with an inordinate degree of kosher privilege, they are not nearly as repellent or loathsome as the various American tribesmen that I have had the grand misfortune of meeting. For example, instead of shitting on European culture, these characters mostly embrace it to the point where some of them, including the male protagonist’s father, are fascist party members. Of course, these characters represent the last generation of true European Jewry before the holocaust and mass immigration of Jews to the United States more or less completely destroyed the culturally schizophrenic peoples. In that sense, the film acts as a virtual collective epitaph for European Jewry, most specifically Italian Jewry, hence why the film concludes with a dreamlike montage of all the characters that have perished.  Actually set in Europa instead of some annoyingly fake Hollywood set, the film also radiates a certain authenticity despite its very specific stylization and cast of aesthetically gifted Aryans portraying rather rich Red Sea Pedestrians.  In fact, even auteur De Sica felt the film was too beautiful, or as he stated in an interview with Charles Thomas Samuels, “That's right.  The second half shouldn't be so beautiful.  I should have made it grey or reversed THE LAST JUDGEMENT and made the first part color and the second black and white.  That's a good idea.  I wanted to achieve effects like those in Huston's REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE, but my cameraman was incapable.”  Apparently De Sica was unable to completely realize his entire aesthetic vision due to a lack of time and money, thereupon resulting in the most glaringly gorgeous holocaust film ever made.  Needless to say, such a film would never be made today.

 After beginning with an immediately strikingly blood-warm autumnal opening credit sequence that sets the film’s aesthetic tone of diffused delectability and soft-focus melancholy, the viewer encounters a couple bourgeois tennis dorks in all-white on bicycles as they approach gates of the large estate of the wealthy Jewish Finzi-Contini family, with one of the friends half-jokingly declaring that, “…the Finzi-Continis never leave their kingdom.” When the group finally enters the estate, they are greeted with an otherworldly Edenic paradise of sorts, though communist Malnate (Fabio Testi)—a masculine goy boy that boasts to his Judaic comrade in regard to his fetish for class warfare, “But the middle class I don’t care for. They’re all of them more or less fascists. Except for you Jews…understandably…considering—but at least the works at my place…are almost all antifascist”—acts less than impressed. A friend of the family’s sole son Alberto (Helmut Berger)—a sickly and painfully introverted blond chap who doesn’t like leaving home because, as he states, “I always felt I was being spied on…envied”—Malnate soon develops a romantic interest upon meeting his pal’s sole sister Micòl (Dominique Sanda), who is somewhat rightly described by a Hebraic comrade as, “Very beautiful: tall, blond…but unpredictable.” To make matters more romantically complicated, the film’s Jewish protagonist Giorgio (Lino Capolicchio) falls in love with Micòl, who also happens to be his childhood friend as both are members of respected local Jewish families. While Micòl gives Giorgio the perfect opportunity to fuck her in her family’s automobile as her nipples can be seen through her wet white shirt after the two seek shelter from the rain, it is ultimately the notably more masculine Malnate that manages to mate with her right before being drafted into the Italian army and being killed in combat in Russia. Although Giorgio fails miserably in terms of attempting to get his virginal shylock cock wet by dipping into Micòl’s premium grade kosher cunt, he is the only one of his tennis friends to survive the ordeal and escape Italy before being herded into a cramped cattle car.  Undoubtedly, the great irony of Giorgio's young life is that, despite succumbing to a crippling degree of lovelorn dejection, he will live on while the woman that he believes he loves will die and eventually become nothing more to him than a fading bittersweet memory of unrequited love during a chaotic war torn period in what is ultimately a sort of Jewish Götterdämmerung.

 Although pathologically preoccupied due to being terribly lovesick, Giorgio seems to be one of the only characters in the film that is acutely aware that an ominous fate awaits the Jews. Indeed, even Giorgio father’s (Romolo Valli)—a fascist supporter with ties to the local government—seems to be in denial about the situation as demonstrated by his preposterous attempts to rationalize anti-Jewish laws. When Giorgio accuses his padre of having a “pet mania” and believing that, “That our Mussolini is better than Hitler…our fascism better than Nazism!,” his father replies, “Well, it’s true!,” and then subsequently argues without even the slightest hint of irony that it is ok that they are, “Third-class, if you will, but still a citizen who can….enjoy his basic rights.” The only other Jew that seems totally horrified by the anti-kosher climate of Italy is Micòl’s insufferably introverted Alberto, who seems to be so deeply metaphysically plagued by the growing counter-kosherism in the air that he eventually becomes terribly sick and eventually dies of the antisemitic storm, or so the film makes it seem. Aside from repeatedly dispassionately rebuffing Giorgio’s various meek and largely pathetic romantic advances, Micòl cannot even be bothered to say goodbye to her brother Alberto, who she seems to have incestuous feelings for, when he is on his deathbed.

Although she declares to Giorgio before a failed half-hearted attempt at seducing him, “I like to feel I’m a woman,” Micòl’s words are clearly those of wishful thinking as she is such a hopelessly spoiled brat that she cannot be bothered to suffer the grand indignity of stepping outside the innately internal fantasy realm she has created on her family estate, hence why it becomes all the more disturbing yet strangely fitting when the goombah Gestapo finally arrives at her less than humble abode to take her and her family away.  A clear victim of bourgeois decadence and the apathy it inspires, Micòl does not bother to even attempt to put up a fight when her black-clad persecutors arrive. Indeed, she seems like she would agree with Rimbaud's words, “I found I could extinguish all human hope from my soul.” Undoubtedly, Micòl seems to suffer from a certain unspoken self-loathing due to her particularly privileged background, which explains her disgust for a fellow wealthy Jew like Giorgio and sexual interest in a good masculine guido gentile like Malnate. In fact, she more or less expresses as much when Giorgio declares he loves her and Micòl angrily responds, “But I don’t love you! Lovers have a drive to overwhelm one another. But the way we are, alike as two drops of water…how could we ever overwhelm or tear each other to pieces? It would be like making love with a brother. Like with Alberto. You and I are not normal people. For the two of us…what counts more than the possession of things—how shall I put it?—is the remembrance of things…the memory of things.”  Of course, the brutal irony is that if Micòl had hooked up with Giorgio and fled Italy with him, she would not have joined the supposed six million in the Endlösung

 To some extent, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis is a ‘message’ film and Vittorio De Sica manages to more or less outline most of its central themes in a single scene at the end where protagonist Giorgio’s father—a man that seems to realize his life is over—reconciles with his son and gives him the following fatherly words of advice,“If I may say so…as families go, the Finzi-Continis are not for us. They’re not our sort. They’re different. They don’t even seem Jewish. Micol—Maybe that’s what attracted you to her. That she’s superior to you socially. It’ll pass. You’ll get over it. And a lot sooner than you think. I can imagine what you’re feeling now. Yet, in a way, I rather envy you. In life, in order to understand…to really understand the world…you must die at least once. So it’s better to die young, when there’s still time left…to recover and live again. When you’re old, it’s much worse. Why is that? There’s no time to start over from zero. And our generation has made so many, many mistakes. A few months and it will seem as if none of this had ever happened to you. You may even end up being glad. You’ll feel richer, one might say. More mature.” As if he predicted the future (or was committing a sort of passive suicide), Giorgio’s father is rounded up by the fascists just like the Finzi-Continis, though he manages to send his family away to safety.  Although a Jewish fascist that supported a political party that persecuted his own people, Giorgio’s father ultimately comes off in the end as seeming like the most honorable character in the entire film.

 While surely entertaining and aesthetically delectable to a certain degree, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis cannot be fully appreciated without a certain understanding of the history of Italian Jewry and its relationship to Italian fascism, which is a bit more complicated and dubious than that of German Jewry to the Third Reich. For example, Giorgio’s father—a man that seems to be just as proud of being Italian as he is Jewish—seems to be symbolic of the Turin banker Ettore Ovazza, who was not only a diehard fascist from the very beginning, but he also bankrolled Mussolini and his movement. Not unlike Giorgio’s father, Ovazza seemed to have been at least partially in denial when it came to growing fascist antisemitism, which he and his family ultimately paid for with their lives with after the Schutzstaffel caught up with them in late-1943 near the Swiss border. As depicted in the rather flaccid and banal TV miniseries Benito: The Rise and Fall of Mussolini (1993) starring Antonio Banderas as the eponymous lead, Mussolini was the sexual and political protégé of communist Jewess Margherita Sarfatti, who acted as an imperative propaganda adviser of the National Fascist Party as well as Il Duce’s biographer. Notably, fascist General and war hero Italo Balbo, who was from Ferrara just like the characters in the film, was strongly opposed to anti-Jewish laws due to his own favorable personal experiences with the long assimilated Ferrarese Jews. Although the film makes it seem as if every single Italian Jew was rounded up and exterminated in a concentration camp, only ninety-six of Ferrara's 300 Jews were actually deported, hence how the film’s source writer Giorgio Bassani was able to survive the war despite being an active resistance fighter.  Of course, considering their oftentimes similar phenotypic traits, especially in the south, it was probably easier for Jews to hide among Italians than among Germans. As far as Hebraic guidos and tennis are concerned, Trieste-born Jewish tennis star Uberto De Morpurgo—a somewhat handsome fellow of aristocratic stock that would certainly be at home with the characters of De Sica's film—was named Italian Commissioner of Tennis by Benito Mussolini in 1929.

 Due to their pathetic passivity and seeming complete and utter disinterest in even leaving home, the titular family of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis almost seems to long for death, as if they have been waiting their entire lives for a one-way ticket to Auschwitz. Notably, this seems especially true of the young intellectual Alberto, who has the luxury of kicking the bucket before ever getting into nazi hands and thus dying a slightly more dignified death. Indeed, thinking about Alberto, I could not help but reminded of the tragic Italian Jewish philosopher Carlo Michelstaedter, who killed himself by shooting himself with a pistol only hours after completing his sole book Persuasion and Rhetoric—a doctoral thesis that, not unlike American Jew Mitchell Heisman's Suicide Note (2010), reads like a hermetic philosophical suicide note—at the mere age of 23 in 1910. Like his Viennese Jewish counterpart Otto Weininger, who killed himself at the same exact age on the same exact month almost seven years before, Michelstaedter was, despite being descended from rabbis, a totally deracinated irreligious Jew that had adopted a completely Occidental cultural and intellectual perspective as a student of Plato and Aristotle. Although just speculation, but I think Michelstaedter was probably like how Oswald Spengler described Weininger in that he was a sort of post-religious Jewish mystic of late religious consciousness destroyed in the agony of a sort of schizophrenic Magian dualism as a result of being a racial/spiritual alien with a carefully cultivated European sensibility.

As Daniela Bini noted in Carlo Michelstaedter and the Failure of Language (1992), “Twelve years after his death his close friend Vladimiro Arangio Ruiz developed an interpretation along a more philosophical line. In speaking of Carlo’s suicide Arangio Ruiz used the very words Carlo himself had written in his autobiographical pages: that he had died ‘for overwhelming abundance of life.’ He emphasized the great demands Carlo had made upon himself, that he had elevated his own being to a height and expected from himself a perfection that cannot exist in human life. He was made of the same stuff of which heroes and saints are made. In this view emphasis was also placed on Carlo’s youth, when idealism reigns uncompromised.” Of course, it can also be argued that the film’s titular family—decadent intellectuals that are even looked at as virtual aristocrats by other Jews due to their wealth and lack of stereotypical Jewish characteristics—also succumbed to ‘overwhelming abundance of life,’ as their bloated opulence and detachment from the struggle of life and survival leads to accepting a horrific fate that is right in front of their faces. Quite notably, both Weininger and Michelstaedter were a major intellectual influence on self-described ‘superfascist’ Julius Evola, who received financial backing from Mussolini to start a racialist journal entitled Sangue e Spirito aka Blood and Spirit that featured a distinctly ‘Roman’ (as opposed to German) view of race that blended Sorelianism with a Mussolinian eugenic ideal. Somewhat ironically, despite his influence on Evola and other fascist thinkers, Michelstaedter’s entire family, including his mother and elder sister, died in the holocaust.  Of course, had Michelstaedter not killed himself, he probably would have also ended up at Auschwitz.

 At the beginning of his magnum opus Persuasion and Rhetoric, Michelstaedter arguably provides another insight into the titular family of the film when he writes, “Nor is any life ever satisfied to live in any present, for insofar as it is life it continues, and it continues into the future to the degree that it lacks life. If it were to possess itself completely here and now and be in want of nothing—if it awaited nothing in the future—it would not continue: it would cease to be life. So many things attract us in the future, but in vain do we want to possess them in the present.” Throughout the family, most of the members of the Finzi-Contini family seem to be living completely in the present, as if they, quite unlike protagonist Giorgio, have nil interest in a future and have thus accepted a sort foreboding self-obliteration via passive contentment that ironically leads to their deaths. While Michelstaedter certainly could have not predicated the holocaust, it as if he understood the sort of hopelessly fragile Jewish bourgeois mindset that would make its implementation possible. Not unlike Czar Nicholas II of Russia, who was executed under the command of Jewish Bolshevik thug Yakov Yurovsky, the Finzi-Contini family is simply too spoiled, weak, and out of touch with reality to deal with a glaring threat that would ultimately completely engulf them.  Of course, the sort of self-slaughter committed by Michelstaedter is certainly more honorable than being another statistic in the shoah, as it at least demonstrates a certain will power.

 While Vittorio De Sica was not exactly a politically correct guy in some respects (when asked in an interview why he did not develop a scene of homoerotic love in his film Shoeshine (1946), he simply replied, “Because it revolted me”), he did seem to suffer from a certain ethno-masochism when it came to fascism, or as he stated in an interview with Charles Thomas Samuels featured in Vittorio De Sica: Contemporary Perspectives in regard to The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, “After the disaster of SUNFLOWER I wanted to make a true De Sica film, made just as I wanted it. I accepted this subject because I intimately feel the Jewish problem. I myself feel shame because we are guilty of the death of millions of Jews. Why were they killed? Because a criminal, a lunatic wanted that. But the Italian Fascists are also guilty. So am I. I wasn’t a fascist, but I belong to the country that collaborated with Hitler. I wanted, out of conscience, to make this film, and I am glad I made it.” Judging simply by his comments, De Sica—a mensch that freely admitted that he was inspired to direct the ‘fascist’ film La porta del cielo (1945) aka The Gates of Heaven because, “it was a film made only to save me from the Fascists”—seems to have failed in his artistic intentions with the film. Indeed, instead of being the stereotypical holocaust agitprop piece, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis is a film that dares to reveal Jewish-fascist collaboration and at least partly blame the Jews for their own downfall. On top of that, the film—a sort of contra Shoah (1985) in virtually every way imaginable—is just too patently aesthetically pulchritudinous, seraphic, and luscious to inspire the doom and gloom of gas chambers and dubious things like Herr Doktor Joseph Mengele’s supposed twin fetish.  Of course, exploiting the holocaust and the Third Reich for monetary and/or aesthetic reasons is a great legacy of Italian cinema history as demonstrated by everything from guido arthouse films like Liliana Cavani's The Night Porter (1974) to Corrado Farina's comic book adaptation Baba Yaga (1973) to the the countless films of the mostly worthless Nazisploitation (sub)genre like Sergio Garrone's SS Experiment Camp (1976).

For me, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis is less a melodrama about the holocaust than a sort of celluloid death poem for European Jewry; or, more specifically a thoroughly Europeanized Jewry that no longer exists but once produced people like Michelstaedter, Weininger, Karl Kraus, Edmund Husserl, and Egon Friedell, among others.  Indeed, I am far from a philosemite, but I think the film does pay respectable tribute to European Jewry, even if it fails in its holocaust agenda.  As to why the film was superior to many of the filmmaker's many previous artistic failures, De Sica probably said it best when he stated in an interview, “I am happy that I made it because it brought me back to my old noble intentions.  Because, you see, I have been ruined by lack of money.  All my good films, which I financed by myself, made nothing.  Only my bad films made money.  Money has been my ruin.”

-Ty E

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