Italy’s great Tavianis return with Rainbow: A Private Affair

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      Starring Luca Marinelli. In Italian, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable

      Vittorio and Paolo Taviani, born in 1929 and ’31, respectively, directed international hits like Padre Padrone and Good Morning, Babylon. They also grew up in Mussolini’s Italy and reached their teen years as it came to a violent end. In their latest effort, Rainbow: A Private Affair—coming to the Vancity Theatre courtesy of the Vancouver Italian Film Festival—they return to the themes of Night of the Shooting Stars, their 1982 meditation on the fluidity and chaos that happens when war is almost over.

      Although credited to Paolo as sole director, Rainbow was written by the brothers, adapting an autobiographical novel by Beppe Fenoglio, who died in 1963, soon after writing it. Like Fenoglio, the protagonist here is a former English-lit major who joins the partisans when Germany occupies his country.

      Nicknamed Milton, after the author of Paradise Lost, he’s played by lanky Luca Marinelli in a far cry from his role as a psychopathic gangster in They Call Me Jeeg. Milton can kill if he has to, and his ragtag comrades are frequently engaged by the black-shirted Italian Fascists they call “roaches”. But when we meet him, in the fog-enshrouded Piedmont area, he’s utterly preoccupied by memories of the paradise he shared before the war with a local debutante named Fulvia (Valentina Bellè).

      A chance encounter with her now-shuttered family mansion makes him recall their mutual love of Wuthering Heights and Judy Garland’s version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, giving rise to the film’s unwieldy and somewhat misleading English title. While Milton certainly does feel nostalgia for his faded Oz—which existed only about a year earlier, in fact—and is now a private in a nameless army, the matter really bugging him is the thought that Fulvia may have dallied a bit more deeply with his self-assured pal Giorgio (Lorenzo Richelmy, star of Netflix’s Marco Polo), now a fellow partisan.

      When he goes looking for his friend, he discovers that Giorgio has just been captured by Fascists, and we don’t know if he wants to rescue the guy or just find out for sure what happened in their summertime triangle. This tone of existential rumination dominates the tale, making for a somewhat stagey drama in which everyone seems to know each other and all take turns declaiming home truths about love and war. Anyway, was Fulvia, who seems pretty annoying in flashbacks, really worth the effort?

      The Taviani brothers may be old, but as we saw in their recent Wondrous Bocaccio, they know a lot of young, attractive actors (even if Marinelli looks 10 years older than Milton’s supposed to be). Viewers can be forgiven for wondering if these longhaired partigiani are actually from rival grunge bands. Still, the brief movie’s last 10 minutes finally jolt to life in an action sequence that makes things matter again.