L’UOMO CHE VERRA’ directed by Giorgio Diritti (Italy, 2009)

https://i0.wp.com/www.slowcult.com/wp-content/gallery//2010/02/luomo-1.jpgIt would have been easy to dramatise the tragic real life events at Marzobotta near Bologna in a sensationalist and exploitative manner, transforming human tragedy into crass entertainment. Instead, the story of the victims is handled with great sensitivity and humanity without glossing over the full-scale of the atrocity.

In 1944, Nazi soldiers massacred 770 people in this small farming community, an act of barbarism that beggars belief. It illustrates that Hitler’s executioners did not confine themselves to the slaughter of Jews but were prepared to slaughter any who dared stand in opposition to Fascism.

Diritti doesn’t claim that his cinematic rendering is historically accurate and it even includes the usual disclaimer at the end that any similarity with  persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.

At the same time, he is keen to add authentic detail by filming close to the actual location and having the actors speak the local dialect of the time, a regional variant  that has now practically disappeared. This  means that the film had to be subtitled even for an Italian audience.

The way in which local priests intervened to try to save the people also tallies with accounts by the few who lived to give testimony to what happened in the small village. However, this is far from being a straight documentary style treatment as Diritti uses the effective dramatic device of showing the lives and deaths of families, partisans and Germans through the eyes of an 8-year-old  child.

This girl, Martina (an amazing performance by Greta Zuccheri Montanari) never speaks. We learn that she lost the power of speech when her younger brother died in her arms. As a result she becomes a silent witness to the unfolding horror.

Giorgio Diritti on the set of L'Uomo Che Verrà

Giorgio Diritti on the set of L’Uomo Che Verrà

This means that the movie takes on the characteristics of a dark fable, something that the title which, translates as The Man Who Will Come , emphasises.

This ‘man’ could be a harbinger of good or evil, hope or despair. Martina’s mother gives birth to a baby boy who, like Martina, survives so it could be a reference to him. Equally, it may be interpreted in more pessimistic terms to signify the arrival of a male bent only on reaping more terror and destruction.

Either way, there is something biblical in the phrase and this, together the fact that the film depicts what Diritti describes as “the war seen from below“, is why I was reminded of  Elem Klimov’s equally affecting ‘Come And See‘. Both these films are motivated by desire to educate and inform (‘Lest we forget’) even though this requires casting an unflinching eye on what mankind is capable of.

In Marzabotto, it is the systematic cruelty which is the most chilling aspect of these war crimes. These are not soldiers defending themselves, but young men brainwashed to the point whereby they fail to see their enemies as human beings.

One of the villagers near the end is scene burying a statue of the Madonna in disgust; a sign that God’s mythical powers had been tested and yet again found wanting.  Diritti’s film is both a poetic work of art and an important act of remembrance for the forsaken whose prayers for salvation went unheard.