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October 23, 2020

Denver Film Festival - Thou Shalt not Hate

non odiare.jpg

Non odiare
Mauro Mancini - 2020
Menemsha Films

The English translation of the Italian title is "do not hate". The English language title given to the film strikes me as adding an imposing weight, suggesting that the audience is to be given a lesson. Either way, the title is misleading as hate is only part of the story. Mauro Mancini's feature debut is as much about the sins of the father, in this case two fathers, and how the children are impacted. The film was inspired by a news article about a German Jewish doctor who refused to perform an operation when he noticed a Nazi tattoo on his patient. In an interview, Mancini has expressed interest in stories about characters who face an ethical dilemma.

Simone, a surgeon, is rowing on the Timavo River in Trieste. He is parallel to a road where he hears a car crash. He gets out, calls an ambulance, and begins to take steps to save the driver's life. The road is otherwise empty with no other traffic or pedestrians. Simone notices tattoos on the driver clearly signifying his affiliation with neo-Nazis. Simone stops his assistance and simply waits for the ambulance. It is later revealed that Simone is Jewish and the son of a holocaust survivor, a doctor who served as a dentist for German officers while imprisoned in a concentration camp.

The driver's death leaves Simone conflicted between his religious identity and professional duty. There a small explanatory gap, but Simone hires the driver's daughter, Marica, to clean his apartment, presumably as a way of expiating any sense of guilt. Simone eventually finds himself more involved with Marica's family is unexpected ways.

Simone's deceased father makes his presence known through scenes that take place in his dark, cluttered house that is up for sale. Simone talks about his father to Marica, stating he would never have made the choice to provide medical care even as a Nazi prisoner. The father's house provides a visual contrast to Simone's apartment, light filled and orderly. While Simone may think he is clear in his self-knowledge, there is the suggestion that unexpected circumstances can lead to, if not a complete change, than a modification of beliefs. In the introductory scene, Mancini makes use of direct overhead shots, what might be called a god's (or God's) eye view of Simone and Trieste.

Most of the film is carried by Alessandro Gassmann as Simone. Those who have followed the more classic Italian cinema may notice a resemblance to his father, Vittorio Gassman (don't ask me why there is different spelling of the family name). It is a very controlled performance of a character who would rather observe than act, who would rather be as unobtrusive as possible unless there is no other choice. While Mancini admirably keeps any messaging from being heavy handed, he also errs in being a bit too cautious. The film opens with a scene of young Simone and his father, outside by a river. Simone is to choose one kitten from a box, the others to be drowned. While the scene shows Simone's first situation of having to choose life or death for someone else, there is no sense of the weight of such decision making, if not at during his youth, than as a memory that informs Simone's sense of ethics as a doctor. The ultimate effect is a that of a film that wants to say something important, but wants to say it as politely as possible.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 23, 2020 06:32 AM