25 December 2001 | ItalianGerry
Italian prisoners of war in California at Christmas.
NATALE A CAMPO 119 (CHRISTMAS AT CAMP119) was released in the United States under the title ESCAPE INTO DREAMS. It is, in fact, about the dreams of home that Italian prisoners of war have in a P.O.W. camp in California after the war has ended and the ex-soldiers are awaiting release. The cast reads like a who's-who of some of the best Italian actors and actresses of that period: Vittorio De Sica, Peppino De Filippo, Massimo Girotti, Aldo Fabrizi, Maria Mercader, Vera Carmi, Ave Ninchi. The gifts of radioed voices of families back home and recordings of Italian popular songs conjure up the memories that we see in flashback. They are comic or bittersweet little vignettes with backgrounds of major tourist sights as a kind of visual obbligato. Aldo Fabrizi is seen taking his five little kids through Rome and trying to keep them at a distance as he foolishly flirts with young Vera Carmi on the Aventine Hill. In the Naples "dream" Vittorio De Sica is a nobleman gambler trying to dodge his creditors. His character is similar to that of his role in the episode of "The Gambler" in his THE GOLD OF NAPLES and is similar to his real-life persona as well. With his crafty chauffer Peppino De Filippo, he makes a getaway in a hearse. In the Florence recollection Aldo Fiorello's lover Maria Mercader is seen trying to arrange a proxy marriage with an old museum guard Adolfo Mancini to legitimatize the child, a little boy she has had by Aldo after he went away. The Milan and Sicily dreams are short undeveloped bits of nostalgia. In the Venice episode we see gondoliere Massimo Girotti falling for a Norwegian tourist, Olga Villi, who inevitably and humiliatingly ditches him. Connecting all the memories are the scenes in the camp itself, a kind of minor-key STALAG 17 ambience, with an American sergeant played by a miscast Adolfo Celi in a manner that can only be called laughable and ludicrous. It is one of the few unconvincing bits in an otherwise appealing and humane movie directed by Pietro Francisci. Its implied message, aimed at Italian citizens across the political and regional spectrum at a moment of divisive postwar national political turmoil, was that "We may all have different ways of speaking, and have different local customs, but we are all Italians. We are one nation." One could think of no better message at Christmas time.