Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Little World of Don Camillo

Il Piccolo mondo di Don Camillo; Comedy, Italy/ France, 1952; D: Julien Duvivier, S: Fernandel, Gino Cervi, Vera Talchi, Franco Interlenghi, Saro Urzi

Don Camillo is a priest in a small Italian village who is shocked when he finds out Communists have won the election and that his arch nemesis, die-hard Marxist Peppone, became the new mayor. Don Camillo is temperament and speaks with the statue of Jesus Christ, thus he interupts the Communists speech with the church bells. But even though he argues with Peppone, he is also his friend and respects him. When a general strike breaks out, Don Camillo convinces him to break the rule and milk the exhausted cows, and their rivalry even continues in a soccer game. He also helps the young Gina and Mariolino to get married and respects the last wish of the deceased Kristina. When he gets moved to another town after a fight, Peppone wishes him all the best.

Nominated for a BAFTA in the category of best film from any source, Julien Duvivier's "The Little World of Don Camillo" is an amusing, light-hearted comedy about the clash between two different perspectives, the religious priest Don Camillo and the secular Communist mayor Peppone. The story avoided any deeper or complicated views into the human spirit and offered philosophical questions only in sparse traces, refusing to be anything but a simple comedy, but it has it's moments. The character of Don Camillo, played very well by comedian Fernandel, is truly interesting: he hears the voice of Jesus Christ coming from the crucifix and giving him advice, interrupts the speech of the Communists with loud church bells and even starts a fight with a dozen youngsters who made fun out of him when he was riding a bicycle. At moments, his profession as a priest is rather questionable and heavy handed, like when it turns out that he hides a gun in his church (!) and doesn't hesitate to use force to achieve his goals, leading sometimes to bizarre contradictions and even causing some TV stations to censor some parts of the film. The Romeo and Juliet subplot involving characters Gina and Mariolino is completely unnecessary and the direction is straight-forward, but the story's symbolical insight into the post-war Italy struggling between tradition and reforms has enough points and some gags are pretty good, like the situation where the old Kristina still regards the grown up men in the Communist party as little brats since she played babysitter for them them when they were still kids.


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