Giorgio Treves • Director
“A pure Italian race? That’s a joke, right?”
by Jan Lumholdt
- VENICE 2018: Few people know much about a particularly dark page in Italy’s history, and Giorgio Treves is making sure that changes with documentary 1938 Diversi
He’s a well-travelled Italian filmmaker, the New York-born Giorgio Treves. As a young crew member he worked for Francesco Rosi, Vittorio De Sica and Luchino Visconti. In 1972, K-Z – his study of the slaughterhouse in the centre of Turin as an allegory of a German concentration camp – was nominated for an Oscar. His first fiction feature, The Malady of Love, won the 1987 David di Donatello direction award and his second feature, Rosa and Cornelia (2000) received a number of awards and nominations. Regularly re-emerging throughout the years, the low-profile, high-quality Mr Treves is now back with a poignant documentary about the 1938 race laws introduced under fascism and Mussolini. 1938 Diversi [+see also:
interview: Giorgio Treves
film profile] premiered out of competition at this year’s Venice Film Festival.
Cineuropa: How did the title 1938 Diversi come about?
Giorgio Treves: I tried to find something that wasn’t didactic. “Diversi” is Italian for different. Here, it means the moment when the Jewish people of Italy officially became “diversi” – different – from other Italians. In 1848, when King Carlo Alberto signed the Statuto Albertino, all Italian citizens became equal before the law, and until 1938, all Italian people were the same. But then, in 1938, they became a different part of Italy, part of class B, under class A. That’s why the film is called “1938 Diversi”. It popped into my head early on and I said that we could always change it later on, but it stuck, and everyone accepted it.
How aware are people of this history? Personally, I immediately think of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, the film by Vittorio De Sica and the book it’s based on, in which we follow the Jewish protagonists during this era.
I was second assistant director on that film! But when I started to work on 1938 Diversi, I soon realised that very few people knew very much about it. They have a vague memory of Jewish people being thrown out of school, but little or nothing about the race laws. There is also a bit of confusion about its origins; a lot of people think that the fascists were forced to follow Nazi rules. But the Italian race laws were all Mussolini’s own idea. Even Hitler was impressed – he sent people to study and copy Italian concepts.
How large was the Jewish community at the time?
Around 44,000. Out of millions. No more. And they came from all social groups, wealthy and intellectual, but not just the elite. I very clearly wanted to research this “myth,” and found that there were many ordinary and poor Jews as well. Just so we know. We were an exact mirror image of the rest of Italy. But we were chosen because Mussolini needed to invent an enemy in order to engage the people and because he was unable to accept his own mistakes. Better, then, to have someone to blame. And because he wanted to invent a “pure” Italian race. When, in reality, Italians are a mixture of Longobards from southern Scandinavia, Moors from Northern Africa, the Spanish, the Aragonese… A pure Italian race? That’s a joke, right?
You yourself are Jewish and were born in New York in 1945.
Yes. My family left Turin just before the war. We came back when I was three years old. I went to a Jewish school and also learnt to write Hebrew – but I don’t know how to read it.
A thought that occasionally strikes me at Venice Film Festival is this giant building we enter every day, the Lido Casino, a typical monument of the Mussolini era.
I know. And I still love it. Same when I see the obelisk at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Same when I go to Germany or to Moscow and see buildings from the Hitler or Stalin era. I don’t feel anger or shock, I just see a remainder of a time that we can still use. But when I see wine labels [by Vino Lunardelli] that were produced a few years ago, with Mussolini’s face on them, I don’t accept that at all.
What are your future plans?
Right now I’m preparing a new feature fiction film together with a Canadian writer. I really hope we can make it.
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