Opening film: Rainbow – A Private Affair (Una questione privata)
Opening film of this impressive short festival at Ciné Lumière in London was Paolo Taviani’s Una questione privata (Rainbow – A Private Affair). Paolo’s brother and customary fellow-director Vittorio this time collaborated on the script. This story of the harsh and tragic situation in Northern Italy towards the end of the Second World War is based on Beppe Fenoglio’s well-known Italian novel of the same name, where a love that never declared itself becomes a dangerous obsession which muddies the motivation and morality of its central figure.
As the mist which is almost ubiquitous both literally and metaphorically throughout the film, lifts, Milton (Luca Marinelli), fighting with the partisans, finds himself in front of a grand country house. Like Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited, he has been here before, returning now as a soldier to a locus where he was once in taken up in a world of the painful happiness of love – with Fulvia (Valentina Bellè), the teasing daughter of the house, to whom he never spoke of his true feelings. A summer of pleasure recollected in the winter of war. The family have left, but speaking to the housekeeper who remains, he discovers that Fulvia may have been all the time involved in an affair with their mutual friend Giorgio (Lorenzo Tichelmy), also now a partisan like him. From now on his work with the partisans takes second place to an uncontrollable drive to find Giorgio and find out the truth.
Unfortunately it seems Giorgio has been captured, so Milton’s efforts are concentrated on doing a prisoner swap with the Fascists, so as to get to him. Through his many set-backs in effecting this, we share his journey over the harsh landscape of Piedmont, forever mist-laden, as his frustrations drive him into a kind of madness.
While this is a personal calvary for Milton, it is the wretchedness of the war with its murdered civilians, its fruitless skirmishes and its meaningless deaths that impresses, embodied in the crazed, murderous Fascist prisoner, perpetrator of many atrocities, whom we see in horrifying closeup, like a Goya cartoon… grimacing as he incessantly drums on thin air. A Taviani hallmark, the long-lingering on a face which so often in their films lays bare and meditates on its humanity, here forces on us an almost unbearable entry into the nihilism of a war of countrymen on countrymen.
Simone Zampagni, the Tavianis’ regular cinematographer, does wonders with the naturalistic mundanity of a comfortless partisan life lived out in the open on this tough landscape or in smashed farm buildings, and more than the story of lost love, it’s the landscape drained of colour or darkened and obscured by the mist which rolls across it, literally the fog of war where unspeakable things are done, that remains potent.