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After a co-directing career stretching over 63 years, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani return to their origins in the atmospheric, often anguishing war drama Rainbow – A Private Affair, the story of a young partisan’s inner conflict between his passion for a woman and his urgent duty to fight the Fascists. This beautifully resonant screen adaptation of Beppe Fenoglio’s acclaimed novel — which has previously been made into a film and a TV movie — is at once a summing-up of the Tavianis’ filmmaking and an affirmation of their unshaken belief that human life is an uneasy compromise between the private and political spheres.
While their recent films have been something of a mixed bag, highlighted by the surprisingly modern 2012 prison drama Caesar Must Die, this is a quiet classic right up their alley, truly belonging to Toronto’s Masters section where it premiered.
Set for the most part in 1944 when Italy was divided by civil war, it harks back to the writer-directors’ early short film San Miniato, July ’44 which described a real-life massacre of peasants in the small Tuscan town where the filmmakers were born. Here the setting is the northern Langhe hills near Turin and Alba, where resistance fighters play hide-and-seek with Fascist squadrons out to exterminate them and anyone helping them, including women, children and old folks.
Scrambling through rolling banks of fog that wrap the hills in eerie unreality, bands of tired, cold, hungry young men — many farmers, a few students — tote rifles and hunt Fascists without any hint of attitude, or the heroics that are so numbingly familiar in war films. One of them is a student who goes by the nom de guerre Milton, a name that also points to his passion for English poetry. Played by Luca Marinelli, who made his mark as a psychopathic criminal in They Call Me Jeeg, he’s an intellectual turned fighter who is racked by the same paralyzing doubts as other key Taviani heroes.
Just a few years earlier, he was still a tweedy, awkward bourgeois student spending his holidays visiting a pretty, spirited girl named Fulvia (Valentina Belle from Medici: Masters of Florence) in her family’s villa on a hill. Their mutual passion for Wuthering Heights and American music, notably Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on the record player, makes him hope they can become a couple, but his better-looking best friend Giorgio (Lorenzo Richelmy, who played Marco Polo in the Netflix TV series) seems to be equally high in her affections.
A year later, war has invaded the idyllic villa on the hill and Fulvia has left for Turin. Both Milton and Giorgio have joined the anti-Fascist resistance movement.
Fenoglio’s fast-paced novella wastes no words, and the film likewise telescopes the action, reducing it to its tense, emotional essence. Milton has indulged himself in a nostalgic visit to Fulvia’s villa, which he finds locked up and abandoned. The caretaker tells him that after he left for the war, Giorgio and Fulvia began seeing each other late into the night. The news sends Milton’s castles in the air tumbling down and plagues him with jealousy and doubts he can hardly control.
When he returns to the base, he learns that Giorgio is missing. A farmer has witnessed him being arrested by the black shirts and taken to their headquarters. The only way to save his life is to exchange him with a “roach,” the partisans’ disparaging term for the Fascists.
Torn by mixed feelings, Milton wanders from resistance camp to camp in search of a prisoner to swap for his rival in love. It’s a terrible dilemma to face, and his uncertainty only spurs him on, into ever more dangerous situations. Losing control over his rational beliefs, he becomes a dizzy leaf blowing in the wind, driven by insane jealousy and guilt that override his commitment to fight in the war going on all around him.
A number of scenes stand out sharply against this human drama. Giorgio, belying his image as a snob who wears pajamas to bed in the hayloft, gives new recruits an impressive lesson on resisting pain under torture. A farm woman blesses the Allied planes flying in formation overhead on their way to bombard the Nazis. A captured roach turns out to be such a sadistic, pathological killer that even the Fascists don’t want him back.
The original music composed by Giuliano Taviani and Carmelo Travia is modern and sophisticated, an unpredictable mix of jazz, rap and period songs. Simone Zampagni’s cinematography smothers the woods and hills in a cold, ghostly mist that only parts to reveal a stupendous cemetery in the mountains, or a house infested with black shirts who really do look like sinister insects.
Production companies: Stemal Entertainment, Ipotesi Cinema, Les Films d’Ici, Sampek Productions in association with RAI Cinema, Cineventure
Cast: Luca Marinelli, Lorenzo Richelmy, Valentina Belle, Guglielmo Favilla, Anna Ferruzzo, Marco Brinzi, Francesco Turbanti
Directors: Paolo and Vittorio Taviani
Screenwriters: Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, based on a novel by Beppe Fenoglio
Producers: Donatella Palermo, Ermanno and Elisabetta Olmi, Serge Lalou, Eric Lagesse
Director of photography: Simone Zampagni
Production designer: Emita Frigato
Costume designers: Lina Nerli Taviani, Valentina Taviani
Editor: Roberto Perpignani
Music: Giuliano Taviani, Carmelo Travia
Casting director: Stefania Roda
Venue: Toronto Film Festival (Masters)
Sales: Pyramide International
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