Let’s back up a minute and look at this area of Italy where the classic age sounded its horn and the Renaissance flowered. Great Humanist traditions around the world are a source of wealth arising in the human heart, which can determine ethical direction.
Humanism, is not so narrow in scope, as to be for or against any religion. How can it be? Humanism shimmers at a distance, at the dawn of human awakening, and predates all religion. It is the individual wellspring from which spirituality arises and ultimately returns. For an individual human being is the source of ethical choice.
Those of us concerned with Ethical dilemma are always hounded by beginners, which is fine, and pretenders, which is not. They pose the following ethical question: “Would you lie if you were hiding Jews, and Nazis are at the door?” How can you reconcile these two opposing ethical requirements? The naive really want to know “the answer”. The pretender only pretends. But the goal of the question is not for the teacher to give the “right” answer but for each student to question themselves. As in, I don’t know, what would you do?
But the unsung heroes in this film know their real answers to this question though truth in action. Almost an entire town in Italy and the surrounding countryside are quite up to the job of answering, not through presumptuous debate, but through individual choice, in real life, in the middle of World War II.
My Italian Secret: The Unsung Heroes is a great documentary about an enormous number of Italian people who opposed Fascism, both their own country’s version with Mussolini, and ultimately in the violence and genocide of the Nazis, who scoured the countryside looking for Jews and other scapegoats, to murder without trail, or send to the camps.
So many Italians stood up to help these people, but without any of the surging heroics usually portrayed on the subject. Instead it was the simple knowledge in the heart which guided many. I encourage everyone to see the film, because it is rare to see this stance in any film, much less a documentary. The Abbess of the convent where Bartoli dropped off forged papers, into a box without speaking, which helped so many to escape, and Bartali, and many others were equal to the answer of the ethical question: What would you do?
Bartali says only that we must never take credit for this kind of good deed, as it is won by the misfortune of others, which is why this was an Italian secret for so long. The Abbess says only, she hopes that when she gets to the gates of heaven and tells of her sin of lying to the Nazis, that she is forgiven.
Let beginners be warned, many were tortured or lost their lives who stood up. Let pretenders slither back to easy opinion. The human heart decides who a person is, and what questions are really worth answering. Do see this film, it is rare, and it is real.
C A Hall is an award winning writer for Film & TV. Would love to hear what your experience is of this film.