By Adam Cook
Paolo and Vittorio Taviani
Now in their late 80s, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani have made films together in Italy since the 1950s, most prolifically in the 70s and 80s. Among their most celebrated films are the Palme d’or-winning Padre Padrone (1977) and the Cannes Jury Prize-winning The Night of the Shooting Stars (1982) which will be screening at Vancity Theatre on January 7th as part of the Italian Film Festival. In spirit with this annual event presenting the old and the new, also screening is the latest film from the Taviani brothers, Rainbow – A Private Affair, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this past September.
While very different, both of these films take place during WWII but avoid typical war movie tropes, focusing on how regular towns cope with turmoil, destruction and division with a humanistic warmth worthy of Jean Renoir, and a sense of humour that the Taviani’s share with fellow countryman Federico Fellini, albeit in a subtler form. Night of the Shooting Stars is framed through a six-year-old girl’s memory, capturing the violence from a child’s perspective in a magical (neo)realist style (think Spirit of the Beehive and Pan’s Labyrinth). Rainbow follows the plight of one partisan fighter who desperately wants to find a missing soldier who we learn through flashback stole the heart of his lover. It is reportedly the Taviani brother’s final film—rumours of poor health spread after they declined to attend TIFF.
Rainbow – A Private Affair, 2017, directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani.
Both of the films are informed by autobiographical experience and ring of authenticity yet they also have a range of emotion and style that defies the genre. The Taviani’s seem more interested in the full humanity of people caught in war—be they soldiers, peasants or whoever—which contrasts heavily with American war films like Saving Private Ryan or the recently praised Dunkirk, which focus on subjective/sensory in the moment experience only as it relates to the intense goings-on of the battlefield. In Night of the Shooting Stars and Rainbow, war is merely one element and a context through which to explore a wider scope of existential ideas—in a sense this brings them closer to Terence Malick’s The Thin Red Line however different it may be in stylistic terms.
Compared to the Italian greats we know so well (Rossellini, Pasolini, Fellini), the Taviani brothers have never received the same acclaim or recognition in the West and that’s in spite of winning awards at major film festivals throughout their careers, most recently the Golden Bear in Berlin for 2012’s Caeser Must Die. The prime of their output came after those aforementioned auteurs were winding down and perhaps their cinema was not as in fashion or in step with the time, by comparison, more classical and more introspective. For those new to the Taviani brothers, this serves as an excellent chance to see one of their greatest achievements and their swan song. For those familiar, it’s a bittersweet opportunity to revisit a favourite and discover one last work of art from a singular pair of masters.