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Conflicts of Memory

The Reception of Holocaust Films and TV Programmes in Italy, 1945 to the Present


Emiliano Perra

Situated at the confluence of history, media and cultural studies, this book reconstructs the often deeply discordant and highly selective memories of the Holocaust in Italy in the postwar era. The author’s core method is one of reception analysis, centred on the public responses to the many films and television programmes that have addressed the Holocaust from the 1940s to the present day. Tied to the heritage of Fascism, antifascism, and the Resistance, public memory of the Holocaust in Italy has changed greatly over the years. Self-acquitting myths of Italian innocence and victimhood, and universalising interpretations grounded in Catholicism and Communism, provided the initial frameworks for understanding the Holocaust. However, the last two decades have seen an increasing centrality of the Holocaust in memory culture but have also witnessed the establishment of a paradigm that relativises other fascist crimes and levels the differences between Fascism and antifascism. Working with the largest corpus yet established of Holocaust film and television in Italy, from the 1948 retelling of the Wandering Jew myth to Roberto Benigni’s controversial Life Is Beautiful, from the American miniseries Holocaust to Perlasca: The Courage of a Just Man, Conflicts of Memory probes Italy’s ongoing, if incomplete, process of coming to terms with this important aspect of its past.


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Chapter Four - The ‘New Discourse’ and the Universalisation of the Holocaust 79


CHAPTER FOUR The ‘New Discourse’ and the Universalisation of the Holocaust The use of the Holocaust as a metaphor was exploited even further by the films of the 1970s, especially those belonging to the so-called ‘new discourse.’ The discussion of films and TV programmes in the ten years between 1966 and 1976 was informed by two different themes. The first was the long- established reference to antifascism and the Resistance addressed in the films Andremo in città (We’ll Go to The City, Nelo Risi, 1966) and Diario di un italiano. The Jewish characters in these two films are presented in their specificity as victims, rather than being equated to members of the armed Resistance, or being overshadowed by them. This shift was interpreted by reviewers as a sign of a growing awareness of Jewish specificity, and as a response to the need for a fresh approach to the subject of the Second World War that went beyond mythologising the heroism of Resistance fighters. The second theme was a departure from established narratives. Certain films produced in the late 1960s and early 1970s sought not simply to analyse the ‘good side’ from a different perspective. Rather, they shifted entirely to focus on the representation of the perpetrators, or the ambiguities of the ‘grey zone’, giving life to what Saul Friedländer has called a ‘new dis- course’ on Fascism in cinema.1 Films like La caduta degli dei, Il portiere di notte, and Pasqualino Settebellezze participated in a broader process of reappraisal...

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