This Vittorio De Sica picture is stamped with the trademark of a master of the cinema. His pauses, as much as his actions; the leeway he gives to Ennio Guarnieri’s superb camera; the self-confidence with which he develops a somewhat lazy story; his disdain for such b.o. sureties as violence and nudity, all point to the good taste and sure hand of a very mature director.
The story [from the novel by Giorgio Bassani] is built on several layers of a time-pyramid, with a base in the ominous quiet prior to World War II and the pinnacle in the deportation to the Nazi death camps of all the protagonists by the year 1943.
On top stands a Jewish family, the Finzi-Continis, immensely rich, cultured, aristocratic, in the beautiful and deceptively quiet Italian town, Ferrara. They hope, in vain, that the vulgarity of fascism will not penetrate into their ivory world. A middle-class Jewish family in the same town tries to beat the enemy by joining him.
Close to the top of the pyramid is the love story between Micol (Dominique Sanda), the daughter of the Finzi-Continis, and Giorgio (Lino Capolicchio), son of the bourgeois Jews. Micol chooses – for a purely physical affair – a virile communist, Malnate (Fabio Testi), the antithesis of everything which she was brought up with.
De Sica’s son Manuel has written a traditional but powerful musical score and the photography, most of it done in Ferrara, is outstanding. The screenplay is well-motivated, sensitive and slow, the dialog terse and sparse and therefore telling.
1971: Best Foriegn Language Film