Thomas Cragin, “Fascism ‘for a Public that Searches’ in La notte di San Lorenzo”

Abstract: At its 1982 debut, La notte di San Lorenzo became a battleground for rival interpretations of Fascism. The film stood between the leftist anti-Fascism of 1970s Italian cinema and the rightist challenge to this Antifascism in the 1980s. The Taviani brothers created a Communist retelling of their own community’s wartime division along class lines, warning against contemporary neofascism, sowing hope for the Left’s return to power. The article considers the film in relation to ideologically-laden 1982 newspaper reviews. By looking at reviews within a broad spectrum of political alignments, ranging from the extreme-Left to the extreme-Right, the article identifies diverse interpretive communities defined by ideology. While notable differences separated Communist reviews from those of the Center-Left, leftist reviews agreed on the film’s representation of Fascist evil, the threat of neofascism, and the film’s accurate treatment of the war. Rightist reviews united in praising La notte for its deployment of myth, folklore, and legend; all elements that, in their view, debunked the postwar Resistance myth and lent humanity to wartime Fascists as victims of a common national tragedy. Surprisingly, scholarly treatments see the film in the same way, unintentionally giving longer life to rightist interpretations that foretold shifts in Italian memory of Fascism after 1982.
Key Words: World War II, Fascism, Italian film, La notte di San Lorenzo, Paolo Taviani, Vittorio Taviani.