Guarini Institute Panel and Film Screening: Miracle at St. Anna by Spike Lee (USA, 2008)

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The third Spring 2009 event promoted and organized by the Guarini Institute featured the screening and discussion of Spike Lee‘s latest work: Miracle at St. Anna. Set in Tuscany, Italy, during one of the most crucial moments of the history of the country (summer 1944), the film has, right from its 2008 sortie, succeeded in attracting enormous attention from international critics and observers. As the story takes action against the background of real historical events, in fact, a great deal of controversy has arisen over the way in which the film depicts specific historical instances.

Director Spike Lee

Director Spike Lee

In particular, many – including Associations of Former Partisans – lamented the perspective chosen by the director in recalling the Italian Resistance movement: the Partisans are allegedly being portrayed through a historically inaccurate perspective that is highly disrespectful towards those who gave their lives to liberate Italy from the Nazis. Such observations have had the effect of stimulating a rather lively debate over whether or not historical accountability should be acknowledged to the film.

The screening was therefore preceded by a panel discussion featuring the participation of some John Cabot University faculty members. Historian Luca de Caprariis opened the discussion with an overview of the historical scenario in which the story of Lee’s movie takes place. His presentation was particularly effective in outlining the state of confusion that characterized 1944 Italy: after the September 1943 armistice and the German invasion, the country had in fact turned into a battlefield between the Allied Armies, the Nazi troops and, from early 1944 on, Partisans and Salò formations.

Philosophy Professor Andrea Branchi then moved on to address the issue of how the film was received and understood by international critics and how the director responded to the criticism. In particular, he recalled the critical reaction of well-known figures like “La Repubblica” columnist Giorgio Bocca, who lamented Lee’s anti-Partisan tones and rhetoric. The last contribution was by history Professor Vanda Wilcox who, opening the discussion with a reflection on how films’ images retain the dangerous power of inspiring unquestioned credibility in the eyes of the public, then moved on to address the question of the film’s historical accuracy.

Guarini Institute Director Professor Argentieri concluded the panel quoting data from the recent book by Italian historian Paolo Pezzino Sant’Anna di Stazzema (Bologna, Il Mulino, 2009), the new edition of which was published after the film’s release. The Nazi troops engaged in Northern Tuscany at that time were multinational (including several Italians) and came mostly from the Eastern front and the extermination camps; on the other hand, any type of Manichean view of the Italian Resistance doesn’t match the historical facts. Spike Lee’s approach, although totally debatable and perhaps also disrespectful of many local feelings, at no point in the film questions its character as a war of liberation from tyranny. The conclusion drawn by all speakers in their presentation was: Miracle at St. Anna is a work of fiction based on a novel and should be watched and discussed as such.