PADRE PADRONE  directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani (Italy, 1977)

My father, my masterAlso known by the English title of ‘My Father, My Master’, this is a film based on the true life experiences of Gavino Ledda, who endured a barbaric upbringing but survived to tell his story.

His tyrannical father justified his cruelty by saying that forcing his eldest son into labour as a shepherd at the age of six was the only way to ensure the family’s livelihood could be maintained.

The process of Gavino’s initiation is systematically brutal and merciless. The boy is forced to work in isolation and beaten regularly when he  resisted or showed fear.

He is treated as little more than a chattel, denied of any love or friendship. In the remote and primitive Sardinian setting the exploitation went unchecked.

A weaker child would have gone crazy but Gavino showed remarkable strength of character and the ability to endure and maintain a rebellious spirit that prevented him losing his sanity.

He grew up illiterate, speaking the Sardo dialect, with only a rudimentary knowledge of the standard Italian language.

Given that he only began his formal studies when he was 20, it is amazing that he went on to get a degree in linguistics, become a teacher and write a book of his experiences.


Saverio Marconi as Gavino

Military service allowed Gavino the means of escape by showing him that there was a world beyond the forbidding landscape he was raised in.

He also found consolation and inspiration in music. In one scene, he ‘buys’ an accordion from a passing musician paying him with two dead sheep.

As a adult, he acquires a radio and when the father angrily destroys it by plunging into a sink full of water, Gavino responds by defiantly whistling the tune that he had been listening to. The music had become part of his being and helped build up his inner strength.

The real Gavino Ledda, as he appears in Padre Padrone.

Gavino appears as himself at the beginning and end of the film to give an added touch of realism.

Although this is a study of survival against the odds, The Taviani Brothers are not interested in sentimentalising the story. Aside from these brief appearances in the movie, we don’t see any of his life after his ‘escape’, they let that part of the story speak for itself.

The raw authenticity of the movie is helped by convincing performances by trained and untrained actors. Omero Antonutti as the tyrannical father and Saverio Marconi as the older Gavino are both excellent.

Ultimately it’s a movie that celebrates the resiliance of the human spirit but the consolation of the ‘happy’ ending doesn’t make it any less harrowing to watch.