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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Revisiting my conversation with screenwriter Stefano Rulli about his film on Italian hero Giorgio Perlasca

The made for TV docu-drama is a popular genre of filmmaking that has immortalized some of the most influential people in Italian history. Most of these made-for- TV movies are shown throughout Italy on Rai Uno. However, some do reach beyond the border through Rai Italia, Italy's International network, to provide us with a fascinating look into Italian history. 

Stefano Rulli (far right) at the Festa del Cinema di Roma, 2016
With that said, enter Giorgio Perlasca, Stefano Rulli and Sandro Petraglia. Giorgio Perlasca has been described as a fascist who saved Jews. Stefano Rulli and Sandro Petraglia are the filmmakers who told his story. During the fall of Mussolini in 1943, Giorgio Perlasca was working for an Italian importer in Budapest, Hungary. When Italians residing in the country were urged home, Perlasca refused, on the grounds that he did not want to live under German occupation in Italy. He stayed in Budapest and found work at the Spanish envoy, Angel Sanz-Briz. He, along with other members of the diplomatic community, issued protective passes to Budapest Jews. In late 1944, Sanz-Briz left the country…but Perlasca stayed. He appointed himself in charge, changed his name from the Italian “Giorgio” to the Spanish “Jorge” and continued issuing protective passes. Between November 1944 and January 1945, Perlasca worked with officials from Sweden, the International Red Cross and the Vatican. Together, they saved about 3,500 Hungarian Jews.

In the spring of 2002, RAI Uno aired Perlasca - Un eroe italiano (Perlasca - An Italian Hero) a movie written by Stefano Rulli and Sandro Petraglia, which documented the extraordinary life of Giorgio Perlasca. I spoke with Stefano Rulli in New York during the 2005 edition of Open Roads: New Italian Cinema. He said that for 50 years, Perlasca’s heroism was virtually forgotten, perhaps because he doesn’t fit into the stereotype of a typical war hero. Perlasca could not accept that churches were burned and could not believe that people were killed only because they had different religious beliefs. He did what came natural to him, and saved people from what he believed to be senseless killings. Rulli stressed the importance of Perlasca’s role in Italian history and feels that he could be of great interest to Italian-Americans simply because he was a very likeable, brave person. His legacy offers a different perspective into one’s Italian origins.

Luca Zingaretti as Giorgio Prenasca in Perlasca: An Italian hero
Information about Perlasca can be found in books such as, L’impostore and El Schindler Italiano. In researching, Stefano Rulli found a biography written by Enrico Deaglio, a famous Italian journalist, who rediscovered Perlasca a few years before the film was made. The book is called The Banality of Goodness and is available in English. There is also an official website for Perlasca- www.giorgioperlasca.it. Another interesting article, The Story of Giorgio Perlasca (in Italian) can be found Rai.it

Click here to watch Perlasca: An Italian hero on Rai Play. Unfortunately, there are not English subtitles but I recommend giving it a try. The performances by Luca Zingaretti, Marco Bonini and Elena Arvigo in particular combined with Ennio Morricone's soundtrack make it a beautiful, moving film. 

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