An overwhelming drama, sadly neglected. Watching it in the Walter Reade in New York, I had the feeling that the screen was expanding to include the entire world.
One of the world’s best movies about brothers. Delicious, powerful evocation of feelings filtered by memory.
Family Diary(Family Portrait), the revelation of last winter's Marcello Mastroianni tribute, left many viewers wanting more from an important but relatively uncelebrated director, Valerio Zurlini.
Too late for neorealism, and perhaps too indigenous to share the international stage with Fellini and Antonioni, Zurlini is only occasionally referred to in the history books among the "young generation" of filmmakers that included Olmi and Bolognini.
New York critic Elliott Stein notes that Zurlini is rather "a lost generation unto himself." His premature death in 1982, after only eight features, preserved this status in stone. In Zurlini's films we view Italy through the perceptions of a sensitive, literate, and visually articulate artist.
A devastating story, magnificently photographed, that has no "gaiety" as the "trailer" [back then, they were called previews] advertises. It's wonderful to discover the films of Valerio Zurlini and to see the young, gifted Jacques Perrin. Recently seen on Turner Classic Movies, this one calls for new subtitles. The voice-over in English is an uncredited Orson Wells. We need Criterion to pick this up and use technology to give this film its justly deserved place in the Zurlini cannon. --@TheGardeliano
Born in Bologna in 1926, he trained as a lawyer but was a passionate student of art, and then, like so many others, studied war as well. Both art and war would inform his films.Zurlini was a landscapist whose subject was character, minutely observed against the backdrops of Parma, Florence, and Rimini.
In his color films one can see the influence of his artistic mentors, the painters Giorgio Morandi and Ottone Rosai, while his black-and-white compositions are striking in their visual explication of evolving but doomed passions.
A Resistance fighter himself, Zurlini's powerful war films are uniquely if obliquely outspoken. Le Soldatesse, Black Jesus, and Desert of the Tartarsfocus on the terrible erosion of internal values that results when Europe fights its wars on the lands and the backs of others. In Violent Summer, set in Fascist Italy, the others are the Italian people themselves.
Italy makes the world’s best movies about brothers. Perhaps the finest one, and certainly the most famous, is Luchino Visconti’s Rocco and His Brothers (1960), but another of the films I mentioned is the most widely distributed work by Bolognese filmmaker Valerio Zurlini, Cronaca familiare (Family Diary; literally, Family Chronicle), which shared at Venice the Golden Lion of St. Mark, the top prize, with Andrei Tarkovsky’s lyrical Soviet film about war’s blighting childhood, Ivan’s Childhood. (The jury cited the Zurlini film’s “delicious, powerful evocation of feelings filtered by memory.”) Against a broad though largely implicit canvas of national history, Zurlini’s film follows Enrico and Lorenzo Corsi (called Dino by his adoptive parents), whose fraternal relationship goes through a series of vast changes attuned to this history.
In subtle and flexible ways, the relationship comes to suggest aspects of this history, although Zurlini everywhere emphasizes the sensitive, universal emotions involved: in particular, the elder brother’s contemplation of the eternal mystery, for him, of his younger brother’s nature—a mystery ultimately sealed in the latter’s youthful death from an ailment itself so mysterious that it comes to seem a projection of Enrico’s limited capacity to fathom Lorenzo.
Cronaca familiare is a deeply affecting work. One reason that the film for better or worse “tells a story” is that the Florentine author who wrote the 1947 autobiographical novel on which the film is based, Vasco Pratolini, collaborated with Zurlini and Mario Missiroli on the screenplay. This doubtless contributes to the film’s literary air; but the fault—one characteristic of Zurlini’s work—almost seems irrelevant given the powerful humanistic experience that the film provides. We seem to be looking in on actual scenes from the, first, mutually estranged and, later, intertwined lives of the two brothers. What we look in on and overhear strikes us as a very personal account. The voiceover narration, ostensibly drawn from Enrico’s journal, even comes to seem etched memories of our own circling in our brain. The highly specific nature of the book yields, then, to the universal impulses behind Zurlini’s artistic intent.
Zurlini has fashioned a distressed, enormously painful tour of the human heart, and he did so, not so coincidentally, perhaps, at a nearly identical time in his life as when Pratolini wrote the book. Both men were in their early to mid-thirties, though of course more than twenty years apart. Both, like Dante in The Divine Comedy, were at the midpoint of their mortal lives.
The film opens in 1945, in a newsroom in Rome, where the impoverished Enrico, a struggling journalist, is informed that a piece of his will be published. Ordinarily, this would be an occasion worthy of celebration. For at least four reasons this time it is not. The atmosphere reeks of the defeat that the American occupation following Italy’s defeat in the Second World War encapsulates. To be sure, Enrico, like Zurlini a Marxist, had been anti-Fascist, but this political distinction is incapable of immunizing him from the national depression that defeat, not to mention the sheer exhaustion brought about by war, has wrought.
Enrico is visibly disdainful of the scattering of flat, arrogant American voices in his midst. They are an intrusion. Moreover, he is anxious besides because of the telephone call he awaits. It comes; it is from Florence. The party on the other end has been trying for a day to get through, but the American occupiers, indifferent to Italian lives, have been officiously hogging the phone lines. The news, though expected, is dreadful: Lorenzo, Enrico’s younger brother, in his twenties, died yesterday. Their separation thus is another cause of Enrico’s unhappiness.
The fourth is that the different circumstances of their lives, consigning Lorenzo to relative wealth but Enrico to squalor and poverty, has long since robbed Enrico of his health. Tubercular, why isn’t he the one to have died? It speaks to the depth of his sense of spiritual kinship that Enrico experiences the death of Lorenzo as yet another stroke of unfairness in his own life. His brother is the one with whom Enrico would have first shared the news of his publication. But, more than that, between the two of them it is Lorenzo who should have lived. Outdoors, slowly moving down a street, in long-shot, against a continuous backdrop of immense buildings on both sides, Enrico seems himself like the narrowly entombed walking dead.
When he returns to his meager accommodations, Enrico is like a ghost haunting the spare, dimly lit space, books stacked against the walls. Zurlini underscores this by slipping into use of a subjective camera. The emptiness of what Enrico sees (an empty chair, an unpopulated desk), which we see through the free-floating camera, reflects the vacant feeling of his soul. Enrico is separated forever from the treasure of his brother’s company and love. Thus he has finally caught up completely with Italy’s national mood of bereavement, exhaustion and defeat.
A painting on the wall triggers his recollections of the past. He and we are in an instant transported to Florence in 1918. A series of static shots of roads and countryside, with trees quietly awash in a subtle breeze, introduces the shift in space and time, Enrico’s withdrawal into memory. It is memory itself that these shots exquisitely portray, as do shots in Alain Resnais’s Night and Fog (1955), Hiroshima, mon amour (1959) and Last Year at Marienbad (1961).
Another war has just ended, and the two boys, Enrico, who is 8, and Lorenzo, who was born shy of a month earlier, are about to be separated, seemingly forever, for the first time. It is this past that will come to a kind of fruition, then, 27 years later. It is a past that contains the present as much as the present contains the past. So it is with human memory: past, present, each enrobing the other, with immediacy yielding instantaneously to distance, and distance yielding instantaneously to the immediacy of perpetual heartache.
Zurlini’s masterful series of static shots, the bridge between present and past, comes measuredly alive when an elderly woman, holding the hand of a child, walks down a country road. The woman is the boys’ grandmother; the child is Enrico, whose care she has taken up owing to the death of the boys’ mother three days after Lorenzo’s birth. Grandmother and grandson are en route to visiting Lorenzo, who has been taken in by Salocchi, the butler of a wealthy English baron one of whose tenants had been nursing the infant. The boys’ father is not in the picture; he is a patient in an Army hospital. His wife, too, was a casualty of the war insofar that her death was partly the result of a non-native disease—Spanish influenza, compounded by meningitis. Enrico tells us, however, he did not hate Lorenzo for their mother’s death from complications of childbirth—the sort of statement that reveals a residue of the very feeling that is being denied. Enrico gives an odd reason for not having hated Lorenzo: because of their separation, Enrico came to feel that his brother had died along with their mother.
The grandmother reluctantly submits to Salocchi’s demand that she never mention Lorenzo’s mother to the boy Salocchi and his wife have “adopted.” This makes access to Lorenzo at least possible, although her visits, accompanied by Enrico, remain unwelcome. Eventually, when his brother is in his early teens, Enrico goes his separate way. Lorenzo remains cocooned in a bourgeois world; Enrico is battered by the poverty that results in his tuberculosis. (Enrico’s chain-smoking despite this condition comes to imply a romance with death that harkens back to the loss of his mother.) Lorenzo grows up hedonistic; Enrico, serious. Lorenzo is an indifferent student; Enrico, a writer, an intellectual, a perpetual researcher and student. Lorenzo is, thoughtlessly, a Fascist in Mussolini’s Italy; Enrico, a dedicated anti-Fascist. When their lives recross in 1935, they are a study in contrasts. Rather than eight years, a whole world separates them.
Life intervenes, and Enrico eventually leaves Lorenzo to go to Rome for a job as a journalist. The war also intervenes. Lorenzo marries, falls ill, and is already close to death when Enrico visits him for the last time, extending to him every possible care, moving him from one hospital to another. This is his brother. Their last scenes together are heartrending.
Why does Lorenzo die? Why not Enrico? Is it the weakness imposed on Lorenzo by the combination of his mother’s and biological father’s absence from his life? The absence of his brother at a critical time? The want of independence fostered by his bourgeois upbringing? Fascism’s usurpation of his individual will? All of these possibilities suggest themselves, and in concert they create a portrait of doomed European youth.Enrico perhaps survives in order to bear the burden of his inconsolable loss: Italy itself, after the war. The elegiac tone of Zurlini’s film encompasses both personal and national history.
Written in 1945 and published two years later, Pratolini’s book is a work of Italian neorealism. In 1962, the film may be something else: an exploration of the ghosts lurking behind Italy’s political and economic recovery.
Zurlini’s color cinematographer is the great Giuseppe Rotunno, whose work here was honored both at Venice and by the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists. In his staggering career, perhaps only his color work for Federico Fellini’s Fellini Satyricon (1969) surpasses his work for Cronaca familiare. Its palate of ochres and pale blue and green is drawn from the works, mostly still lifes, landscapes and urban scenes, of one of Zurlini’s favorite painters, Giorgio Morandi. Several scenes of profound darkness contribute to the film’s sense of mortal shadow and of Enrico’s—and Italy’s—long, dark night of the soul.
The acting in this film is immense. It is perhaps the case that Marcello Mastroianni has given more great performances than any other film actor ever; it also may be the case that Enrico is his crowning achievement. Sylvie’s portrait of the boys’ grandmother is bettered in her long career by nothing else. She and Mastroianni both are to the bone here. Jacques Perrin, as Lorenzo, is the younger brother none of us wants to let go of. (This actor-producer, who was in his twenties when he won an Oscar for co-producing Constantinos Costa-Gavras’s 1969 Z, is still very much at work.)Salvo Randone is everything he needs to be as Salocchi.
Cronaca familiareis at times a frankly sentimental film; Lorenzo’s protracted scenes of dying, with Enrico at his bedside, tear the heart to tatters, threatening to unbalance the film’s calm. Certainly Zurlini is incapable of the unsparing vision of family loss that distinguishes Nanni Moretti’s harsh (though beautiful) comedy The Son’s Room (2001). Perhaps nothing so much emphasizes the Zurlini film’s sentimental streak as the unnecessary music by Goffredo Petrassi that rather too conveniently swells up on a dime—a typical Italian bugaboo. No one can sanely declare Cronaca familiare a perfect piece of work. But I must at least protest that the actual film that I saw at the Northwest Film Center here in Portland, Oregon, is fifty times more wonderful than the doctored version that M-G-M released in the States in the mid-’60s and which Turner Classic Movies has broadcast at least once.
Afflicting this lesser incarnation is a third-person English narration that contradicts the actual film’s pivotal role of memory. It would appear that as late as a quarter-century after his demise the ghastly spirit of Irving Thalberg still dictated M-G-M’s practices. Throughout the industry, it is past time to put that spirit to rest.
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