A historically accurate dark hour of WW2.In Italy ,the Jews are victims of a hateful blackmail:their persecutors demand 50 kilos of gold or 200 of them will be held hostages ;they have only one day ;most of them are deluded and begin to give jewels,watches;a catholic even gives her cross (but she wants it to be hammered out);everybody knows the ending:a roundup,as awful as that in Paris velodrome D'Hiver.
The movie is rather sprawling ,with three or four sub-plots;the best concerns a shoemaker played by highly talented Gérard Blain (often nicknamed "the French James dean");the movie owes a good deal to him ,as it was the case of "Il Gobbo" ("Le Bossu De Rome" -"the hunchback of Rome").Blain was not exactly the easiest actor to work with: a rebel ,non-conformist ,sometimes depicted as a right- wing anarchist ,his career ran into difficulties after three great movies by Duvivier and Chabrol:he left for Italy and even for Hollywood where he was John Wayne's co-star in "Hatari";but then again,he turned his back on stardom and from 1971 onward,began to direct his own movies :they remained unfairly unsung but I urge cine buffs to try and see the best of them "Un Infant Dans La Foule" and "Les Amis"
Forgive me this digression:but Blain is the soul of the movie,his rebel stand makes sense ,we are with him all along the way and when he finally joins the resistant fighters ,we hesitate on his side when it comes to shooting a German officer;in direct contrast with him ,we have the bland pretty boy Jean Sorel ,a catholic boy who wants to marry Jewish brunette Anna Maria Ferrero (also Blain's co-star in "Il Gobbo" )All that revolves around this impossible marriage ,hostile mom,conformist priest ,final sacrifice,all is predictable .And why Anna Maria favors listless Sorel to Blain remains a mystery.
See it for some scenes with the Jews ,and mainly for Gérard Blain ,the great lost French actor of the sixties.
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