A fable about the vitality of immigrants who believe in liberty and love, “Bella Ciao” is as clumsy as it is earnest. Uncomfortable mix of whimsy and political didacticism almost works thanks to talented and dependable cast. But even the playing of Jacques Gamblin and Jalil Lespert — as father and grown son — can’t elevate this one above the nice-but-misguided category.
When the fascists take over Italy in the early ’30s, ardent communists Nella and Orfeo Mancini (Yael Abecassis, Gamblin) leave for America with their young son and daughter but mistakenly get off the boat in Marseilles. School teacher Orfeo becomes a day laborer for a well-connected fellow countryman (Serge Hazanavicius) who was a rival for Nella and soon will be wearing one of Mussolini’s black shirts. The Mancinis are dirt poor — dad even feeds them spoonfuls of Tuscan soil — but they live in a lively immigrant quarter overflowing with storybook-caliber mutual support. As ugly events intervene, subsequent generations are born, each inching up the social ladder. Sun-kissed lensing and nostalgic score can’t mask the structural problems of Stephane Giusti’s quasi-poetic sophomore effort, following the gay comedy “Why Not Me?” (1999).