Dir: Peter Voigt
58 min., Video, Color
Produktion: Tele Potsdam/Medienhaus. Buch, Schnitt: Peter Voigt. Kamera: Gunther Becher. Beratung: Klaus Voigt. Ton: Gerd Jäkel. Musik: Verdi, Scelsi, Lakomy. Produzent: Marco Mundt.
Uraufführung: 30. Juli 1996, Arte.
Weltvertrieb: Tele Potsdam/Medienhaus, Bebel-Str. 26-53, 14482 Berlin, Germany. Tel.: (49-331) 721 53 25.
Eine Co-Produktion mit dem Sender Freies Berlin, Arte und dem Goethe-Institut München.
Fri 14.02. 17:30 Arsenal
After entering the war, Italy interns foreign Jews in camps. Even though life in the camps is tough, internees are relatively safe. But then the Germans occupy Italy (1943-45) and persecute the Jews in a German manner: up to 7000 are sent to death camps, some manage to hide and survive.
The film BELLA ITALIA investigates the life of the emigrants. What was the Italian exile like? How do they remember the internment camps? The film is an hommage to the humanity of so many Italians and their opposition to the German racism.
The topic is delicate, the occasion is real - but what about the realization? Difficult. After 1935 about 3500 Jewish intellectuals fled from Fascist Germany, their fatherland - to Italy, the fatherland of fascism. This paradoxical chapter of history was documented in the exhibition "Bella Italia - a Refuge Subject to Cancellation" by the Goethe Institute, Milan, also seen last year in the Berlin Academy of Arts.
Life in exile contains contradictions: the happiness of having escaped, the sense of humility in a foreign country, the fear of reprisals. At least it seems that refugees integrated well in Italy to the point of not defining themselves as political refugees any longer. During the anti-fascist conference in 1935 there was not a single emigrant from Italy. Some artists even achieved new creative peaks. "You could remain quietly in the background."
Peter Voigt assembles and pronounces statements such as these with a sober, distanced voice, mentioning the political background to the "axis Rome-Berlin" of 1938 from the off-screen space. He refers to the Mussolini government's relative tolerance towards Jews in the beginning to the incarceration in Italian camps later. Statements by contemporary witnesses are presented as fragments, assembled in to political collages, pieces of a puzzle which eventually cohere into a more complete picture, leaving out biographical information.
Often they are seemingly small anecdotes which indicate the horror. Heinrich Steiner boldly discusses Rilke poems in a local Italian pub with his friend, Gestapo men making fun of this ,intellectual hogwash'. Steiner's friend nevertheless keeps up the debate fearlessly - and disappears the next day. 6746 Jews were deported into German death camps from 1943.
Less successfully, Voigt uses alternating shots taken from moving trains and dark platforms to dreamy rather than dramatic effect. Gestapo documents, on the other hand, come across as being very real, confirming release from incarceration "by firing squad." It is not without problems that Voigt weaves statements by witnesses into the film without providing any biographical background. (...) Artur Leyser remembers the concentration camp commander in Ferramonti Tarsi in Southern Italy, who liked jazz. Later it was even possible to buy French perfume. Furthermore, the social hierarchy amongst educated West European Jews and their poorer brothers from Eastern Europe lead to conflicts: "Social status mattered in the camp, too."
Voigt allows these disparate perceptions, lines them up without comment, weaving Primo Levi quotations into the film, structuring it like a film from the Silent Era (a.o. with intertitles such as ,Youth', ,Deadly Fear', ,The Rescue'). It is a severe document about external threats, internal reflection, the right to integrate in order to survive, about a country which, according to Voigt's interpretation, didn't want (at first) to risk its reputation as a land of tourists and transits. In the final sequence of the film there are no emigrés to be seen, only young tourists on the lawn in front of the Roman Colosseum, an image celebrating the ,unity of all nations' which could have been an advertising campaign by the Goethe Institute.
Exile is an anxious existence where longing, humility and deadly fear play on the refugees - these strong contradictions are well presented in Voigt's film. Towards the end of the film, the sober tone begins to make sense. Sentimental moments are altogether excluded, and statements are meant to function as an inspiration, as a challenge.
(Dieter Deul, in: epd Nr. 61, Frankfurt/Main, August 7th, 1996)
Peter Voigt was born in Dessau in 1933 and worked as dramaturgical and directorial assisstant at the Berliner Ensemble from 1953 to 1958, graduating in animation at the DEFA studios two years later. He worked as director and author in the studio Heynowski & Scheumann and at the DEFA studio for documentary film from 1983 to 1993.
1970: Augenblicke für später. 1971: Implacabilis. 1972: Martha Lehmann. 1973: Der goldene Strich (Documenta). 1974: Das Trauerspiel (Friedrich Flick). 1975: Ohne Arbeit. 1977: Konsequenz. 1981: Busch singt (mit Konrad Wolf). 1984: Stehend auf zwei Gäulen (Erich Mühsam). 1985: Schlachtfelder (Verdun/Stalingrad). 1986: Stein schleift Schere. 1988: Kentauren (Heiner Müller). 1989: Knabenjahre. 1990: Die Wunderwaffe; Wofür starb Dirk Boonstra. 1991: Metanoia; Wieland Förster. Protokoll einer Gefangenschaft. 1993: Dämmerung. Ostberliner Bohème der 50er. 1994: Der Ort, die Zeit, der Tod (Forum 1995). 1996: BELLA ITALIA - ZUFLUCHT AUF WIDERRUF.
© 1997 by International Forum of New Cinema. All rights reserved.