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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini) (1971)

"She plays tennis and never goes out, as if only her garden were safe."
- Bruno Malnate (Fabio Testi)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: June 25, 2001

Stars: Lino Capolicchio, Dominique Sanda
Other Stars: Fabio Testi, Romolo Valli, Helmut Berger
Director: Vittorio de Sica

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: R for (brief nudity, sexual situations)
Run Time: 01h:34m24s
Release Date: June 19, 2001
UPC: 043396062016
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-C-C- D

DVD Review

Those darn Nazis are always hogging the spotlight. Yes, when you start talking about mistreatment, relocation and genocide of the Jewish people, one inevitably thinks of Germany. But at the same time, Uncle Adolf's fascist nephew, Il Duce, was busily enacting his own racial laws in Italy as well. This often-disregarded bit of Italian dirty laundry is given a thorough airing in this late work of Vittorio de Sica (The Bicycle Thief).

The Fitzi-Contini family are wealthy Jews in the Italian town of Ferrara in 1938. As of yet, matters are not in extremis, but there are disturbing signs in the air and increasing violence. Micol (Dominque Sanda) is a young woman coming of age, in love with childhood sweetheart Giorgio Lattos (Lino Capolicchio). After a brief sexual encounter in a car, Micol flees to Venice. When she returns, she avoids Giorgio for unexplained reasons, taking up with his friend Bruno (Fabio Testi), but primarily staying hidden behind the garden walls of the Finzi-Contini estate. As the clouds of war gather and darken, and violence becomes ever more a part of life, she tries to hide in her seclusion until the outside world breaks through and leads to inevitable doom.

Garden won the Oscar® for Best Foreign Language Film of 1971, and it does have its merits. Although slow-moving, it has gorgeous moments. And of course, it has a Holocaust theme that the Academy voters always find completely irresistible. The costuming and set dressing are very attractive, and the use of shadow and light is striking. Colors are quite subdued, other than the green of the garden, symbolizing the harbor of life that remains protected from the outside world of politics and inhumanity.

Some aspects are not so happy. Micol's motivations are mysterious throughout, and we never get a clue as to what she's thinking about anything, or whether she's at all honest with others or even herself about the things she does say. It seems that she loves Giorgio, but doesn't seem interested in seeing him or trying to work things out with him in any way, preferring to remain shut up and sleeping with his friends. This greatly reduces any sympathy that the audience might feel for her. Sanda and Capolicchio are fairly wooden and unemotive, making it even more difficult for the audience to connect to them. Antonio Finzi-Contini (Helmut Berger), Micol's ailing brother, is practically a cipher about whom one feels nothing. By far the most interesting characters are the older generation, rather than the young stars. This is best exemplified in the character of Giorgio's father (Romolo Valli), who really comes alive in a way that Giorgio himself never does.

De Sica's camera wanders about quite often, but always ends up resting on some indicia of Judaism, be it a Star of David on a necklace or a Hebraic carving in a portico of the garden. These reminders of the characters' Jewishness brings to mind time and again their vulnerability despite their wealth and Aryan looks.

In all, I wouldn't consider this "truly one of the great films of all time," as the cover quote from Joel Siegel would have it, but it's passable and beautifully shot.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: While the presentation here is widescreen anamorphic, transferred at a fairly decent bit rate, the source print is not very good during the first half. Speckles, both white and black, are abundant during the first few reels. By the time the story gets going, the picture settles down quite a bit until the end of the final reel, when another storm of damage hits. There are several instances of major visible frame damage which are briefly distracting. Grain is significant throughout, though this is probably an artifact of de Sica's Neorealist style. Colors are quite subdued, except for greens, but this is almost certainly intentional and does not lower the grade.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Italianno

Audio Transfer Review: The original Italian mono is presented here in 2.0 Dolby Surround. Hiss is common, and there are occasional whirring and buzzing sounds that don't seem to belong to the film but are extraneous noise. Range is adequate, but unimpressive. Dialogue is quite forward, as is most of the music. Occasionally, background music will come from the surrounds, but this isn't a very active mix. Indeed, I thought it was mono until I listened closely to the surrounds.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Shanghai Triad, Dancing at Lughnasa and End of the Affair (1999)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Despite a large box listing nine Special Features on the back, they boil down to a weak set of selected filmographies and trailers for three completely unrelated movies. Filmographies are included for de Sica, Sanda and Helmut Berger. No trailer for the featured film is included, which seems highly odd since it isn't all that old. Chaptering is excellent for a short movie. But that's it. Very disappointing treatment of what is allegedly a great film.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

A slow and often too-mysterious tale of the futility of trying to hide while the world is collapsing, this film suffers from a marginal print on the first few reels and a lack of extras.


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