One of the most notorious massacres on Italian soil is dramatized in “The Man Who Will Come,” an oddly titled, fictionalized account of a small rural community near Bologna just before and during the devastating Nazi reprisal of late September 1944. At its best when depicting the quiet solidarity within the farming community, this sophomore effort by Giorgio Diritti (“The Wind Blows Round”) has difficulty assembling its interesting vignettes into a cohesive narration. Winner of Rome’s grand jury prize as well as the audience award, the film will likely be propelled by its worthy subject through a healthy fest life.
Following resistance activity, the villages around Marzabotto, near Bologna, were targeted by the SS, and approximately 770 people — many children — were murdered in reprisal for partisan raids. “The Man Who Will Come” focuses on the family of 8-year-old Martina (Greta Zuccheri Montanari), a wide-eyed tyke who hasn’t spoken since her baby brother died in her arms. Now her mother, Lena (Maya Sansa), is pregnant again, and Martina looks forward to the new arrival.
But 1943-44 is a difficult period, and Lena and her husband, Armando (Claudio Casadio), along with the other peasants, struggle to feed themselves and the families who’ve fled the city and are lodging in their spare rooms. Armando’s sister (Alba Rohrwacher) spent time in the city herself, adopting ways that grate on her mother (Maria Grazia Naldi). Meanwhile, the villagers struggle to lead a semi-normal life while debating how much assistance to give the partisans.
This sense of camaraderie is nicely realized, though the SS round-ups take the viewer by surprise, since there hasn’t been any unusual activity by the rebels. A little more sense of who the German soldiers are would also help; instead, auds are treated to yet another scene of drunken Nazis commandeering a farmhouse, singing loudly and molesting the womenfolk. It’s as if the helmer is at a loss to explain the inhumanity, and so reverts to tired formulae that ultimately say nothing about the shocking massacre.
Early in his career, Diritti worked with Ermanno Olmi, and he tips his cap to his mentor by evocatively capturing village life around Bologna. Actors largely speak in Bolognese dialect (subtitled in Italian) and, while they’re a solid group, the professional style of such top thesps as Sansa, Rohrwacher and Casadio (a theater actor making his bigscreen debut) doesn’t always jive with that of the presumably more authentic side players.
Lensing is solid, especially in interiors, but the transfer from digital retains all the harshest elements of the format, especially in the flat lighting. Any film about a horrific event that features a child (especially a mute one) has to be careful not to tip over into overt sentimentality; using a children’s choir on the soundtrack at dramatic moments does this balance no favors.