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The Unreliability of the Narrator in 'La Notte di San Lorenzo'

Updated on September 18, 2011

As the development of film and techniques used in film progressed, filmmakers began to experiment with these new ideas. With the film industry in decline, the filmmakers needed to work harder to rival the newest media market, the television. The Taviani brothers explored new territory by using an unreliable narrator to tell their story of World War II in their 1982 film, La Notte di San Lorenzo.

As a viewer, one should trust the narrator because he or she is the only thing the audience has to relate back to the story. If a narrator lies or misleads the audience, he or she makes the audience uncomfortable and doubtful of what is real or not. The use of an unreliable narrator has become more and more popular in film and even literature but the unreliable narrator in La Notte di San Lorenzo does not leave the audience with doubt.

War is an extremely emotional subject to capture in fiction film. There is looming dread and fear that hangs with the audience. Whether the film is based on factual events or fictional wars, a good war film must be moving. In La Notte di San Lorenzo Rosanna, the now grown woman and mother, recounts her memories of the night of the shooting stars from when she was only six years old. One interesting approach that the Taviani brothers could have taken was to show the effects living through World War II has had on people, especially children. Instead, the brothers took a more positive approach. La Notte di San Lorenzo is not a movie about death and despair, but the hope the group of people felt throughout the story.

There is doubt in actual events but not the feelings that they convey as each scene or vignette moves along. There are some scene that are less believable than others, like the gladiators in the field, but it is almost easy to forget that every person’s story is not being told how he or she remembers it but how Rosanna thought everything happened. When thinking like that, there are a few scenes that are left to be question for validity or not.

One of these scenes is the bedroom scene between Galvano and Concetta. These two had seemed to be enemies or at least strangers throughout the journey but once in the peasants’ house, they are assumed to be husband and wife. Their relationship goes from nonexistent to lovers. It is revealed to the audience that Galvano has been in love with Concetta for many, many years but she was aristocratic and he was not so his love for her would be worth nothing. As the scene unfolds, Concetta confesses her own love for Galvano, and despite the fact that they had both married other people, the love was still there. They spend a perfect night together saying and doing everything they could just in case the Americans did not liberate them in time. Despite the happiness of the final scenes, which included finally having his true love and getting news that the Americans had freed Italy from the Fascists, Galvano chooses to hang back in the peasants village instead of celebrating with the rest of his friends.

These actions lead one to wonder if any of the night before ever happened. Galvano and Concetta barely make eye contact and it is as if they had reverted back to strangers. Had Rosanna hoped this is what happened to two of the elders in the group because she didn’t want them to die alone? Had Galvano or Concetta or both wished on the shooting stars and all of their dreams came true?

Another questionable plot line was Rosanna’s mother and her admirer. He makes many sexual advances but time after time, Rosanna’s mother turns him down, because she is faithful to her husband who is out fighting the war. You can see through their longing glances at each other that the feelings are mutual. You see the heartache Rosanna’s mother feels when she sees her admirer dead.

Are these Rosanna’s dreams that her mother stayed faithful to her father while he was fighting the war? Did Rosanna want to think the best of her mother that she was undeniably in love with her soldier? Was there more to the story that no one will ever know?

There are too many questions and not enough answers to confirm or deny any situation. But in the end, the answers did not matter in the least. Rosanna was recounting the story not as the worst time in her life but her greatest adventure. Each vignette provided the audience not with fear as most war movies do, but hope that everyone affected by World War II was okay in the end. Even though there were great loses, the Taviani brothers captured a different aspect of the war that could have only be told from the point of view of a little child who could not understand the weight of what really was happening during those times.


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