December 14, 2009

Italians explore the Jewish struggle against the Brits in post-war Palestine

Posted in Italy, Pop Culture at 6:17 am by chavalah

A militant Zionist, a mild-mannered Holocaust survivor, and a British soldier get along by the Coliseum because they’re all played by Italians 😉

The other day, I got an unexpected call from my father. “I got an email about an Italian film playing at the Washington Jewish Film Festival; wanna go?” I was surprised; I had already gone to see another WJFF movie last week, but I hadn’t noticed this one. I was hesitant at first, given the price of tickets, but thanks in part to the generosity of The Italian Cultural Institute, Il Grudo Della Terra (The Earth Cries Out) was presented for free.

Dad tends to jump at Italian stuff and I tend to jump at Jewish stuff, so really, we were perfectly suited. For the first time, I got to show one of my parents around the Washington, DC Jewish Community Center. I also made sure that he gawked for a bit at the Chanukah Bazaar downstairs, because like most non-Jews drowned out by Christmas, he hasn’t gotten enough exposure to it. 😛 (He needed to see the stuffed Torahs, man. I mean, who woulda thought?)

Il Grudo Della Terra was groundbreaking in many ways. Created when Israel was barely out of infancy, it was the first film (predating Exodus) to tackle the Jewish struggle to create a homeland directly following the Holocaust.

The love scenes were a little schmaltzy and the death scenes a little melodramatic, as per the norm in that time period. Also, the Italians did little to show their own culpability in the Holocaust. No, they were “the good guys,” doing the best they could for the Jews in the dinky displaced person camps, and even ferrying them over to Palestine under British noses. But to play devil’s advocate, a good story can’t get caught up in too much morality. And as promised, Il Grudo Della Terra did a fantastic job portraying all sides to the story, from the post-traumatic stress of the survivors who just wanted to live quietly, to the militant Irgun members engaged in terrorism against the occupying British army, and even an officer of that army, who was doing his best, given the circumstances, to keep the peace. Obviously, it wasn’t a story that would end on a bed of roses.

I also really appreciate the attention of detail they gave to Jewish religion and culture, from the divide between the religious and the secular Zionists over Shabbat, to the wedding officiated under the chuppah, to the Hebrew folk songs that the survivors sang on the boat to Palestine. I’ve only done minimal research into this subject, but I assume that the majority of the people who worked on this film were Italians of Catholic descent (like my dad! :P) It’s rather touching, given that this film was made in 1949, the sensitivity they gave to the Jewish themes.

WJFF is over for another year, alas. Must to remind myself to actively seek out Italian films next go around (hear that, DCJCC, go for Italian films! Italians are awesome. 😀 Not that I have a stake in this or anything. :P)

For more on the festival, read my review of Argentine film, “La Cámera Obscura.”


1 Comment »

  1. Vicki said,

    Thanks for reading my reviews 🙂 This sounds like a really interesting movie-as I am obsessed with both Jewish and Italian stuff, a perfect fit. Also if the Zionists are anything like Paul Newman in the Exodus, please count me in.

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