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The Garden of the Finzi-Continis

Il Giardino dei Finzi Contini
1970 / 94m - Italy
War, Romance
The Garden of the Finzi-Continis poster

Italian melodrama, that starts off as a teen romance and evolves into a dreary war drama. In the background we see the rise of fascism, ignored by a wealthy Jewish family who retreats to their private domain. De Sica bets on quite a few horses, but the result is a bit of a jumbled mess.

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The Finzi-Contini family is dead rich. When the Jews in a nearby village are banned from the local tennis club, they open up part of their estate to accommodate the victims. That's how Giorgio meets Micòl, the daughter of the Finzi-Continis. The two develop feelings for each other, but their different social standings make their relationship impossible.

The film appears a little cheesy, with soft-focus visuals, idyllic colors and a wannabe romantic score. It's all a bit much, so I never ended up caring for the two leads, nor their predicament. The contrast with the background of the story also doesn't work well, the fascist threat comes off forced, and the darker second half fails to make an impression. Not great.

Umberto D.

1952 / 89m - Italy
Umberto D. poster

A film made famous by a cute little dog. Not quite as special anymore, in an age where pet videos dominate the internet, but watching an old man and the loving bond with his pet is certainly something that ages pretty well. Sadly, that's about all I got out of this film, which isn't a lot for 90 minutes of drama.

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Umberto lives in a very small room, together with his dog. When he stops working, the rent becomes too much, and his landlord is looking for a way to kick Umberto out. He gets to the end of the month, but then Umberto falls ill and needs to get himself checked into the hospital. When he returns to his home, workmen are refurbishing his apartment.

The film looks better than most other Italian Neorealism dramas of that time, but not spectacularly so. Performances are decent and the bond between the man and his dog is nice enough, but it's also pretty sentimental and the finale is well overdone. Not the worst in its genre, but nothing memorable either.

The Bicycle Thief

Ladri di Biciclette
1948 / 89m - Italy
The Bicycle Thief poster


1946 / 87m - Italy
Shoeshine poster

Early De Sica that already sports many of the typical Italian neorealism traits. It's certainly not my favored type of film, but the above-average cinematography does add a tiny bit of extra flair to Shoeshine. Not enough to make it a pleasant or easy watch, but I've struggled harder with certain other films in the genre.

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Two kids are doing odd jobs to save up for a horse. A couple of older boys involve them in a scheme to rob a fortune-teller, though they only find out when the robbery is already taking place. Things take a turn for the worse when the fortune-teller identifies the boys as the culprits, after which they are sent to juvenile prison.

An excess of drama and highly evocative performances aren't the best premise for a touching film, at least not in my book. I prefer a more subtle approach to drama. The high-contrast black and white cinematography is a bonus and the short runtime a blessing, but it's not enough to turn me into a believer.

Doctor, Beware

Teresa Venerdì
1941 / 92m - Italy
Doctor, Beware poster

A pretty loud and basic Italian romance. If you ever wondered where the cliché of the "loud Italian" came from, look no further than this film. Other than that, it's a very classic romance. Fans of the 40s Hollywood films who wouldn't mind an Italian take might like this film, personally I didn't care that much for this early De Sica.

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Teresa is a young orphan who falls madly in love with a doctor who visits the orphanage. She tries hard to get him to notice her, but when she finally succeeds she finds out that the doctor isn't the dream man she imagined. Still, Teresa is determined to make a good, honest man of him.

The performances are very basic, the plot isn't anything special, and the characters are a bit too loud for my liking. But the pacing is fine, and it's nice to see a film that doesn't overstay its welcome. It's certainly not the worst of its kind, but unless you're a big fan of classic cinema, there's not much of note.