Effectively transposing Lorenza Mazzetti’s acclaimed autobiographical novel inspired by her experiences in World War II Tuscany, “The Sky Will Fall” captures both the innocent, carefree pleasures of childhood and the lengthening shadow of violence and oppression that transform the story into one of family tragedy. Strong material and an able cast give the drama a shot at some minor arthouse sales before wider TV exposure. Pic will get its North American preem in the Montreal fest’s Italian sidebar this fall.
Set in a stately Tuscan villa in 1944, story centers on pre-teen sisters (Veronica Niccolai, Lara Campoli), orphaned when their parents are killed in an auto accident. They go to stay with their Uncle Wilhelm (Jeroen Krabbe), a liberal-minded German-Jewish intellectual, and his wife, Katchen (Isabella Rossellini), bringing with them their late father’s sympathies for Mussolini and fascism, which are quietly discouraged by their new guardians.
Early action ambles agreeably through the girls’ discovery of friendship and complicity with the household staff and local field workers’ kids, and their vaguely love-struck admiration for their charming uncle and his coterie of cultured friends. When Nazi soldiers take up temporary residence in the villa, the girls strike up a friendship with a courteous German general, who enlists Wilhelm as his chess partner, admiring the man’s courage in declining to hide the fact that he’s Jewish.
Despite warnings from the local priest, whose fear eventually infects the girls, Wilhelm refuses to abandon his home and flee to safety in Switzerland. By doing so, he places the entire family at risk.
Scripted by Italo screenwriting royalty Suso Cecchi D’Amico with a sure hand at conveying character detail, the drama shifts gradually and satisfyingly from lighthearted nostalgia to a sorrowful climax in which the young protagonists’ eyes are opened to the horrors of the world. Climax is made more forceful by the impending arrival of peace, with the unexpected return of the Nazis catching the family off-guard as they await the British allies.
Dutch actor Krabbe brings dignity, intelligence and openness to his character, making him a profoundly good, enlightened man, while Rossellini is warmly sympathetic as his supportive wife and the girls’ loving surrogate mother. Younger cast also is natural and appealing, skillfully directed by brothers Andrea and Antonio Frazzi, who have worked extensively in television for 25 years. Production is handsomely lensed, with composer Luis Bacalov’s melancholy score providing gentle commentary.