Academic journal article Italica

A Semiotics of Judaism: Representations of Judaism and the Jewish Experience in Italian Cinema, 1992-2004

Academic journal article Italica

A Semiotics of Judaism: Representations of Judaism and the Jewish Experience in Italian Cinema, 1992-2004

Article excerpt

"Con gli anni novanta ... il ... cinema italiano" ... punta l'attenzione sul "ritrovato gusto di sporcarsi le mani con i problemi della societa italiana." (Morandini, cited in Zagarrio 37)

In questo passaggio di millennio in cui tutte le crisi si intrecciano, il compito morale di mantenere viva la memoria storica non puo andare disgiunto dall'imperativo di tenere aperte le vie del dialogo, con tutti e su tutto. (Segre 91)

Historians of Italian cinema have identified the 1990s as a period of flux, in which directors departed from the light comedies favored in the 1980s to explore Italy's quickly changing social identity and the films' own significance within that transformation. (1) In his study of this period, Vito Zagarrio pinpoints 1992-93 as a benchmark year in which Italian filmmakers, caught up in the ethos of the Mani pulite investigations, committed themselves to creating a socially responsive and reflective cinema that would pick up and continue the socio-political inquiry and cultural innovation of Neorealism. Out of such groundbreaking films as Giuseppe Tornatore's Nuovo Cinema paradiso (1989), Gabriele Salvatores' Mediterraneo (1991), and Nanni Moretti's Caro diario (1994) arose an immaginario comune that would engage critical ideological issues of postwar Italy (60-61).

We can extend this newly formed immaginario comune to include yet another momentous investigation undertaken at the turn of the twentyfirst century. Within the new context of greater commitment, several films produced between 1992 and 2004 focus significantly on Judaism and the twentieth-century Jewish experience. They respond to and even parallel the ever expanding social, scholarly, and literary focus on the history of Jewish Italians, as well as the legal recognition of religious and ethnic differences comprising Italian identity. Framed by the beautifully stylized Confortorio (Benvenuti, 1992) and the more conventional Servo ungherese (Molteni & Piesco, 2004), together these films contribute to an immaginario comune that generates a dialogue on responsibility, guilt, and understanding.

Within this scenario, three particular films, which form the basis of this paper's analysis, Daniele Segre's 1992 Manila Paloma Blanca, Gabriella Gabrielli's 1993 18,000 giorni fa, and Ferzan Ozpetek's 2003 La fines--tra di fronte, contribute significantly to and are exemplary of this shift in consciousness by including Judaism and the Jewish experience as signifiers of twentieth-century Italian experience. Segre's work is one of the very few films in which Jewish life is integral to a narrative outside the parameters of the Second World War. (2) Gabrielli's text is the first film to focus almost exclusively on direct Italian involvement in the Shoah. And Ozpetek's film inserts into the narrative of the vicissitudes of young Italians today the memory of antisemitism and persecution. Within a more extensive immaginario comune, these texts can be taken as a referent both in the on-going and now accelerated revision of Italian identity, and in the multivalent attempt to make visible the presence of Judaism and the Jewish experience in Italian society.

In the course of its history, the Italian film industry has included depictions of the Jewish experience in World War II, but very few of Judaism, much less of Jewish life outside the ventennio. This absence is problematic, not the least because it obfuscates the presence of a group of Italians whose contributions to Italian culture, society, and politics are significant and well known, and yet have suffered persecution for their identity as Jews. Reasons for the absence of Jewish life in Italian cinema are complex, but several simple explanations can begin to shed light on the situation. Jewish culture in Italy has been and continues to be overshadowed by the dominant culture, which in the past was Catholic and today is increasingly secular, and Italian mainstream cinema has tended to reproduce the dominant culture. …

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