The three children, who range in ages from five to seven, take it all in stride. They’re happy to be living with their grandfather, and manage to make new friends at the local school. (One small problem: Vincenzo, a free-thinker, isn’t too happy about the school’s emphasis on religious training and fascist indoctrination.) The siblings and their new playmates are vaguely aware of their parents’ anxiously whispered conversations. But for them, the far-off war is something that has only an indirect influence on their lives.
When three Italian soldiers set up camp on a nearby beach, the children don’t view them as threatening. And with good reason: The soldiers are bored and lonely fellows who go about their observation duties with little enthusiasm. One of them begins a romance with Nonno’s maid, leading to a briefly funny scene in which Vincenzo’s oldest son spies on the lovers’ tryst.
Only gradually do the children learn, along with the audience, that Nonno has been turning over most of his livestock to a local priest, to feed fugitives hidden at the church. Later, when their aunt and uncle depart to join the anti-fascist partisans, Bruno (Andrea Frontoni), Mimmi (Roberta Nolis) and Giuliano (Alessandro D’Achille) begin to worry in earnest about the war. The Italian government surrenders and German troops move into the area, adding to the suspense.
“The Wide Oak” steers clear of standard melodrama. A scene in which a priest helps an inquisitive child avoid capture by the Germans is all the more gripping for being underplayed.
Bianchini, working from a script he co-wrote with Leone Colonna, does a fine job of sustaining the child’s-eye p.o.v. throughout pic. He gets credible performances from Frontoni, Nolis and D’Achille, and surrounds them with equally well-cast adults. Moschin is extremely effective as the robust and gruffly good-hearted Nonno.
Pic’s only flaw stems from Bianchini’s inexplicable refusal to leave well enough alone. After showing how the family survives the war, he flashes ahead some 40 years to depict the funeral of a principal character. The scene may be intended to end the pic on a note of bittersweet poignancy. As it stands, however, the abrupt shift in tone undercuts the joy of what initially seems like a happy ending.
Giovanni Cavallini’s attractive color lensing is a major asset. Other tech credits are first-rate.