FF77 - The Night of the Shooting Stars

Intro by Ben Harrison

An open window overlooking a modern Italian city 1982. You can imagine the warm air and the smell of Rome or Florence or wherever it is. A woman begins telling a bedtime story. This is August 10th, the night of the shooting stars, which according to Tuscan lore is a night where you can look up and have a wish granted by that most fleeting of celestial phenomena. You might not think a war film framed as a bedtime story would work, but look up at the sky and if you see a shooting star, perhaps even that wish can be granted.

The mother is telling a story to her infant child, the story of that same night many years ago during the last days of World War II, so we flash back and bear witness through the eyes of Cecilia, the 6 year old girl this mother once was. Because she is relating her childhood-memory, it sometimes feels like a very Italian Stand By Me. It is a technique that keeps the viewer at an intentional remove. The stories of what happened to other people are conflated with living memory and often surreal because a child doesn't always understand what she is overhearing. The violence depicted in the film is often either off-screen, slapstick, or cartoonishly divorced from reality, a comment it seems on how memory can be transformed as a coping mechanism for the traumatized.

The film, directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, draws heavily on Italian neo-realism. Listen to our Friendly Fire episode about Rossellini's Paisan (see Episode 32) for an example from this genre. Because of that we also get a mix of professional and non-professional actors depicting the struggle of the poor and working class. This struggle is filled with a unique wartime tension. Everybody knows that the war is ending, except there is an order of operations to the liberation of Italy: First the cities, then all of the other towns and villages in descending order according to size, generally moving from south to north. It puts those who live in these small hamlets into a terrible waiting game where they can stay put and become the objects of reprisal for retreating German troops or their own fascist neighbors, or flee in search of American forces.

Our protagonists isn't the only perspective we get. There are vignettes where we meet the San Martino villagers who have chosen to flee, at one point even going into their heads to hear their inner thoughts. There is unrequited love between elder villagers Galvano and Concetta. Will they be killed before expressing their true feelings for each other? We also follow the exploits of a father-and-son fascist enforcer team whose private war alternates between savagery and grief.

It is a film that never lets you feel at ease because while the feelings are real we are never to forget that we reside in somebodies fantasy. It makes emotional truth the currency rather than historical truth and it turns out that in a war film the exchange rate is roughly equivalent. It is a film that might just have to be seen to be understood because as they say: The war explains it. On today's Friendly Fire we review Night of the Shooting Stars.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License