Il segreto di Italia/ The Secret of Italia is a period film based on historical events. It is set in the town of Codevigo at that moment near the end of WWII when Italy is about to be liberated from Fascism by the Allies in conjunction with partisan rebels made up mostly of members of the Communist Party, some of whom once also used to be Fascists.
The secret of adult Italia (Romina Power) is that for many years she’s been burdened with guilt over a secret that the film will reveal (spoilers ahead): as a teenager (played by Gloria Rizzato) she was in love with Faronacci Fontana (Alberto Vetri), the son of the Fascist mayor of Codevigo, who in turn was in love with a widow called Ada (Maria Vittoria Casarotti Todeschini). When Italia finds them messing around in the hayloft, she reveals their hiding place to the ‘liberating’ forces and the left-wingers take their revenge on the scion of the Fascist mayor by brutally murdering anyone suspected of having a fascist affiliation without trial or due process.
The other secret of Italy that the film crudely attempts to ‘reveal’ is that the mainly Communist partisan rebels who helped liberate Italy with the Allies perpetrated horrible atrocities on innocent civilians, many of them undirected revenge killings, and were themselves thuggish murderers. In this film, the fascists are all nice ordinary people who just wore the black shirt occasionally at village feasts to be polite and because it helped with the business of farming but really they didn’t mean anybody any harm.
This is a messed up film, structurally built around flashbacks that seem unnecessary, and with some unpleasantly brutal scenes. I’ve never seen such a scorching a denunciation of ‘liberating forces’ or such a sweet and nostalgic chocolate-box evocation of Fascists. For that reason alone it’s worth seeing. Certainly anybody interested in Italian culture and history will find it rewards a look, if one with a critical eye.
I understand a suit has already been instigated against the film in Italy and that boycotts have occurred at some screenings. Despite some fine performances, Alberto Vetri’s in particular, the film is so crude – Italia’s secret is that of Italy it exclaims! — it’s not really worth the bother of boycotting: it’s unlikely to find much of an audience. But it is precisely because it mounts such a crude attack on the left and such a glowing defence of the right – and because it is seems to be a component of a structure of feeling in Europe that seems to be on a rising tide, that I recommend a viewing.
Seen atthe Festival des films du monde, Montreal, September 2015.