For Italian filmmaking brothers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, the cinema has always been linked to their childhood experiences during WWII—the story goes that they wandered into a screening of Roberto Rossellini’s Paisan shortly after the fighting stopped and were thunderstruck by how it made sense of their own experiences. With 1982’s beautifully bittersweet The Night of Shooting Stars, the subject of an immaculate new restoration, the Tavianis were able to pay it forward.
Framed as a bedtime story that a mother is telling her child, their film reanimates a bloody historical footnote through the eyes of six-year-old Cecilia (Micol Guidelli), someone young enough to find something wonderfully exciting about the madness of war. Set in and around the picturesque Italian town of San Marino during the twilight of its occupation, the Taviani’s episodic tragicomedy begins with a gaggle of citizens being told that the Germans have mined their houses, and that their only recourse is to take shelter in the local cathedral. In reality it was a trap, but the film graciously rewrites the past and allows a rabble of eccentric characters to escape the carnage—an old man named Galvano (Omero Antonutti) is neither trusting nor patient enough to wait for salvation, and so he leads those willing to follow him toward the dangerous hills beyond their home.
A kaleidoscope of horrors that never strays far from a sense of childlike mischief, The Night of the Shooting Stars bridges the gap between Fellini and Beasts of the Southern Wild. Its cast of characters is as memorable as the savagery with which they’re disposed, and the occasional flights of fancy—such as a scene in which our precocious heroine imagines the freedom fighters as a phalanx of Greek warriors—illustrates how war is somehow untethered from reality, like a slab of butter sliding off a knife. Although it spins in circles for too long before its climactic wheat-field shoot out, no other Taviani brothers film so vividly captures the prevailing ethos of their life’s work: “Living may be tragic,” Vittorio once said, “but life isn’t.”
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