Rob Edelman: Taviani’s Rainbow

Oct 16, 2017

Remember the Taviani brothers? More to the point: Whatever happened to the Taviani brothers? In recent years, what have Paolo and Vittorio Taviani been up to?

Back in the 1970s, ’80s, and early ’90s, the two collaborated on a number of memorable, high-powered features. They include PADRE PADRONE, THE NIGHT OF THE SHOOTING STARS, KAOS, NIGHT SUN, and FIORILE. PADRE PADRONE, which dates from 1977, is a favorite. It is the fact-based story of a Sardinian shepherd and how he escapes from a most horrific childhood, and an abusive father, to master Latin and Greek and graduate college. Talk about optimism! Talk about transcending one’s less-than-stellar roots!

In the years since, Paolo and Vittorio, who hail from Tuscany and were born respectively in 1931 and 1929, have been making films, but none approached the quality of their earlier work. So are they, like other filmmakers whose creativity fades as they age, still capable of creating onscreen magic? Well, upon learning that their latest feature would be screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, I figured that this would be a perfect opportunity to find out.

Their new film is titled RAINBOW: A PRIVATE AFFAIR and, happily, it is a special treat: a deeply moving drama that directly reflects on the Taviani’s early years. The time is World War II, the setting is rural Italy, and the central character is named Milton. He is played by Luca Marinelli, a young actor who reminds me of Gael Garcia Bernal. Milton is a partisan who has been fighting his countrymen who are fascists. The story involves what happens when he returns to his home village and recalls his happier, more carefree pre-war past. These memories primarily involve his feelings for his best friend, who also became a partisan, and the lovely young woman with whom he had fallen in love. 

Before the war enveloped their lives, Milton and his companions cherished their innocence. They, as any young people at any point in time, might anticipate falling in love, starting a career, embracing marriage and parenthood. But all of this has been interrupted by war and, in time of war, friends are separated and relationships are put on hold, perhaps permanently. 

Given the time in which the film is set, its title directly references “Over the Rainbow,” the now-legendary melody performed by Judy Garland in 1939’s THE WIZARD OF OZ. At one point, we briefly hear this version, as well as a few other idyllic pre-war numbers that are embraced by Milton and his friends. For indeed, the special, heartfelt feelings in the “Over the Rainbow” lyrics symbolize the idealism of the characters before their lives are upended by war, and just as they impacted countless baby boomers who first heard them when THE WIZARD OF OZ played on U.S. television in the 1950s. 

RAINBOW: A PRIVATE AFFAIR also features stunning cinematography and production design which capture the serene beauty of the Italian countryside and the manner in which its tranquility is jarringly marred by the brutality of war. Some of the scenes are heartbreaking. One involves a little girl who is surrounded by all her relatives who are the casualties of war. Another involves the fate of a partisan who is just a boy.

One benefit of attending a film festival is that you can experience a range of films that have not yet earned U.S. theatrical distribution. Many, for one reason or another, will not be shown theatrically, but one only can hope that a film like RAINBOW: A PRIVATE AFFAIR will be picked up in the U.S. and will benefit from maximum theatrical exposure. 

Rob Edelman has authored or edited several dozen books on film, television, and baseball. He has taught film history courses at several universities and his writing has appeared in many newspapers, magazines, and journals. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.

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