Tuesday, May 21, 2013


While visiting my mother in California (to celebrate her 91st birthday today), I joined her and some of her friends last night at a movie sponsored by the local Italian-American Club. The 2½ hour movie (in Italian, with English subtitles) was named Baaria, Sicilian dialect for Bagheria, the Sicilian town, which is the setting for the film. It depicts a half-century plus of local life as experienced through a particular family (especially the middle generation represented by Peppino and his wife Mannina).

Three generations of the family are portrayed,but the (grand)father and (grand)son are sort of bookends for the life and times of the middle generation, represented by Peppino. There are evocative scenes from Peppino's father's youth in the 1910s, a reminder that Peppino (and everyone else) lives and moves within a framework created and deeply constrained by the past. Peppino's personal (individual and family) life is inextricably entwined with that larger story. That said, Peppino's personal story begins - highly symbolically - in a classroom in 1930s Italy, where official portraits of King and Duce with a crucifix between them stare down from the schoolroom wall. 

The film walks Peppino through his poor and skinny childhood, through the  traumas of war, liberation by the Allies, and the 1946 Referendum, through his own ideological identification with the Communists and his modest career as a Communist Party functionary - all set agains the background of social and political change, dramatized by the changing face of the city itself. (In addition to English subtitles, the film featured super-titles, with the Director's scene-by-scene commentary, including commentary on the changes in the cityscape and how they are portrayed in the film).

Young communist though he may have been, Peppino pursued and won a woman, Mannina, of slightly better social standing, whose family had had higher hopes for her. Peppino's and Mannina's love last - and triumph - through such adversities (and Peppino's lack of significant success politically and economically). Peppino's communist ideals never find fulfillment (and there are hints of ideological disillusionment). Instead, Peppino find personal meaning and fulfillment in his family and learns to celebrate his ability to relate to others in ways which relativize political categories.

The film faithfully captures the tragic story of Sicily and the resilient dynamism of its people. It successfully sets the particular political pathologies of the 20th century - in all their transience - amid the unchanging human story of life, labor, love, and death, continuing from generation to generation through the abiding realities of family and friendship.

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