THE SHADOW OF THE DAY – St. Louis Jewish Film Festival Review – We Are Movie Geeks

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THE SHADOW OF THE DAY – St. Louis Jewish Film Festival Review

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Riccardo Scamarcio as Luciano and Benedetta Porcaroli as Anna, in THE SHADOW OF THE DAY. Courtesy of Memensha Films and the St. Louis Jewish Film Festival

THE SHADOW OF THE DAY is a hauntingly beautiful tale of love and sacrifice in wartime, a story of two people unfolding against the backdrop of fast-shifting events in the run up to WWII. This is an excellent film, a well-crafted, powerfully-told tale that evokes classic films with it’s strong characters and riveting performances, and a mix of romance, heartache, suspense and tension. With strong storytelling, gorgeous production values and powerful, moving, layered performances, THE SHADOW OF THE DAY is one of the highlights of the St. Louis Jewish Film Festival.

Set in Italy in the 1930s in a small town, the story revolves around a middle-aged Italian man, Luciano (Riccardo Scamarcio) who manages an elegant restaurant, who notices a worried young woman (Benedetta Porcaroli) who has been hanging around the front of the restaurant all day. His head waiter asks if he should shoo her away but the manager tells him, no, he’ll do it. Instead, when he speaks to her, asking casually if he can help her, she begs for a job. She says her name is Anna and she’s from Rome. He doesn’t ask why she left although he may have an idea. The restaurant doesn’t have an opening, she doesn’t have restaurant experience, but something in her desperation touches him and he hires her anyway. Sending her to the kitchen to work, he pulls her aside first and gives her a plate of food.

Yet, this kind-hearted man, like most Italians before the war, is a supporter of the Fascists. Luciano just also happens to be a good man. Like most Italians, he admires the Fascists for getting the economy working and helping WWI veterans like himself, a wounded war hero who got no welcome home after the war.

Although some of his old friends are active in the party, he is more casual about it, and rather cool towards the adoring cult of personality that has developed around Mussolini. Unlike some Italians, he is not antisemitic and is not shocked when he eventually learns that the smart, hard-working woman he took pity on and hired is hiding a Jewish identity. He notes that Italy, unlike German, doesn’t have anti-Jewish laws, although his employee points out that may change with Italy’s new alliance with Hitler.

While Luciano is respectful of his new employee, we also see he is drawn to her, even if he’s a generation older. Although she is a bit stand-offish at first, the quiet charm and thoughtfulness of this good-looking middle-aged man begins to have an effect on her too.

But just as things seem set on a path to romance, surprising twists intervene, and the film suddenly shifts from a budding romance and drama about complicated relationships, to a taut thriller with even more complexities, and dangers, as war approaches. The tension rises and relationships between everyone at the restaurant grow far more complex.

This turn changes what has been a well-crafted romance into a gripping suspense tale, while losing none of that tension between these two. The acting is superb, and the film further develops all the characters, using them to bring out various issues of pre-war Italy. The storytelling is tight, the period settings and details all flawless and the photography excellent, but it is the performances, particularly Riccardo Scamarcio as Luciano and Benedetta Porcaroli as Anna that really win our hearts.

THE SHADOW OF THE DAY, in Italian with English subtitles, plays the St. Louis Jewish Film Festival on Thursday, Apr. 18 at 7pm at the B&B West Olive Cinema in Creve Coeur.