‘Production, Myth and Misprision in Early Holocaust Cinema: L’ebreo errante (Goffredo Alessandrini, 1948)’
Cinema as Political Media. Germany and Italy 1945-1950
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Gordon, R. ‘Production, Myth and Misprision in Early Holocaust Cinema: L’ebreo errante (Goffredo Alessandrini, 1948)’. Cinema as Political Media. Germany and Italy 1945-1950. https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.36845
In the immediate months and years following liberation and the end of the war in 1945, the Italian film industry went through a period of instability, transition and reconstruction just like the rest of the country, devastated and destabilized as it had been by the wars and civil wars since 1940, not to speak of more than two decades of dictatorship. In parallel with the periodization of national politics, where the transition is conventionally seen as coming to an end with the bitterly fought parliamentary elections of April 1948, the post-war instability of the film industry can given a terminus a quo at emblematic re-opening of the Cinecittà film studios in Rome in 1948, following several years as a displaced persons camp. Between 1945 and 1947, modes of film production as the industry recovered were often improvised and highly localised, not quite artisanal but certainly fluid and fragmented, yet nevertheless showing remarkable signs of vitality and dynamism in the face of both material difficulty and problematic continuities with the heavily Fascistized industry of the 1930s-40s. In standard accounts of film history, this contingent set of conditions has been understood as laying the basis, almost accidentally, for some of the key practices and aesthetic tenets of neo-realism as it emerged in precisely these years, for example the use of location shooting, rough film-stock, non-professional actors and compelling contemporary narratives subjects. But this was far from the only or even the most representative feature of Italian films made in that period and that committed politicized and broadly leftist cinema was by no means the only template against which to interrogate recent history through film. Indeed, it is something of an anachronism to map back onto the period 1945-48 critical categories that were only defined and settled a posteriori and that at the time were part of a wider and more fluid spectrum of possibility, debate and practice. This essay looks at the production, style and narrative mode of one important, if until recently largely forgotten film from 1948, Goffredo Alessandrini’s L’ebreo errante (The Wandering Jew), starring a young Vittorio Gassman and Valentina Cortese, as a powerful example of that other perspective on Italian film history and its relation to the war and Fascism. L’ebreo errante is a film that displays, both in its production conditions and production values, a decidedly disjointed aesthetic that is a long way from neo-realism, but which nevertheless addresses compelling questions about the recent war, and in particular the concentration camps and the genocide of Europe’s Jews, questions that no other Italian film of the moment proved capable or wiling to address so directly nor so centrally. It is also a film that is heavily symptomatic of the complex lines of international mobility converging on Rome in the immediate post-war years, with actors from across Europe passing through the city, along with refugees, DPs, fleeing Nazis and migrating Jews, as well as many tens of thousands of returning soldiers or former prisoners. L’ebreo errante is read here precisely through its strained incoherence, its multiple blindspots, its prejudices, clichés and contradictions, as well as through its often sophisticated, multi-genre touches and varied stylistic and formal tropes, as a powerful emblem of Italy’s early confusion or misprisions in processing its recent history and responsibilities, in deciphering the wider meanings of the war and what was later called the Holocaust, and in the potential for film to capture and improvise narrative out of these challenges.
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This record's DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.36845
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/289596