Poster of the film The Rose of Istria
On February 6th, the RAI drama “La rosa dell’Istria” was broadcast in prime time. It is the third film produced by public television in the last twenty years dedicated to the theme of the eastern border, the foibe and the exodus. The commentary of the historian Eric Gobetti
“Soon the world will do everything to forget our history.” With these words, repeated twice in the final scenes, the recent Rai drama symbolically ends The rose of Istriawhich aired in prime time on 6 February 2024. The duty to remember, therefore, “not to forget” seems to be the push that moved the management of Italian public television.
Yet the numbers speak clearly: this is the third film produced by Rai in twenty years, after the two-episode fiction The heart in the wellfrom 2005, and co-production Red Istriaof 2018. If we add documentaries, graphic novels, television programs, newspaper articles, sites and podcasts, no other historical topic has ever had such media overexposure in all of Italian history.
One can argue that it is a great tragedy, which involved many Italians, but then why not dedicate equal economic and political resources to making other equally tragic events of the same era less unknown? The IMI, the Italian Military Internees, were at least double the number of exiles and 25,000 died, five times as many as the victims of the foibe; not to mention the deaths under the bombings or other hundreds of thousands of refugees at the end of the war, those totally forgotten by our national community.
It therefore seems clear that the purpose of this type of production is not to remove oblivion, but rather to offer a new political interpretation to facts widely known by public opinion. In essence, this film should not be judged as an artistic product, but for its “educational” content, for its educational function towards citizens. Even the verisimilitude of the plot or the historical inconsistencies (the most ridiculous concerns the royal carabinieri dressed as in the 1980s!) are of little relevance: what matters most is the message conveyed by the film.
The plot in any case is very simple: in 1943 an Istrian family is attacked by Yugoslav partisans and decides to emigrate to Friuli and then to Veneto, where they settle permanently. The film therefore focuses on the exodus and the difficulties of integration in Italy. In this sense it can be considered the last piece of a trilogy composed of Red Istriafocused on the foibe of 1943, e The heart in the welldedicated to the end of the war in the border area.
In common with the previous films there is the geographical setting, the violence that comes suddenly with the arrival of the partisans (without any relation to the fascist oppression and the crimes committed by the Italian army previously) and the clear dichotomous contrast between victims innocent and brutal attackers.
The story takes place entirely in the last two years of the Second World War, but the conflict seems not to exist, except for the indirect effects it produces on the protagonists. All the characters, even the young men of military age, live in the middle of the world war as if nothing had happened, sometimes subject to bombings or document checks, but always without taking sides or feeling the need to declare their adhesion to one of the two fronts at war. No choice, no belonging; they are solely and totally victims of the war, and when it ends (in an apparently casual manner) they celebrate its end as if it were the recovery from an illness for which there is no medicine.
“War sucks”, it is repeated several times, war is an inevitable evil, to which one must get used. A dark reference to current wars seems to resonate here, to the sacrifices that are required of us today by the state of global conflict. The only “right” behavior, the film seems to communicate, is patient waiting. And when you suffer unmotivated persecution, all you have to do is run away, roll up your sleeves, work and wait. The important thing is not to rebel, and everything will work out, as shown by the young Jew who cheerfully awaits the end of the war.
In this context, Italians, as always, are nothing more than innocent victims. Victims of war, of bombs, but above all of brutal and savage, incomprehensible and senseless aggression. There is not a single Italian in the film who makes a choice, in one direction or the other. Partisans and fascists do not exist in Italy, in a representation that reiterates for the umpteenth time the stereotype of the “Italian good people” and the more nationalist accents of the exiles.
“We are Italians twice. By birth and by choice”, says a refugee, recalling one of the slogans so dear to exile associations. Furthermore, it is a model shared by our entire ruling class, the one that led to the institution of Remembrance Day twenty years ago, the one that would have the function of pacifying the divided memories of the Second World War on the basis of a presumed global innocence of all Italians.
The emotional impact on the public and therefore the political-moral implications of the film are based on the relationship between victims, executioners and violence. Precisely on this point the distance from the last film made on the same theme appears more notable, Red Istriadespite the presence, as screenwriter, of Maximiliano Hernando Bruno, director of the 2018 film.
In Red Istria ideological motivations prevailed over national ones: the victims were unequivocally presented as fascists and the culprits as communists, Italians and Yugoslavians. The scenario is completely different The rose of Istria, where the contrast is only national: Slavs against Italians. And never vice versa; to the point that, in a completely unrealistic way, the Italian protagonist speaks Croatian correctly (a language forbidden in the previous twenty years even to native speakers!), while the partisans don’t know a word of Italian, in a territory where until the day before without knowledge of the language would have been impossible to live on.
Obviously the “good” Italians, totally defenseless, have nothing against the Slavs, who instead hate the Italians, for no apparent reason, and violently induce them to flee in disorder. In short, what is shown in the film is textbook ethnic cleansing, which serves to reiterate and confirm the official vulgarity, widely denied by historians, but a cornerstone of the political use of Remembrance Day.
If in the 2018 film it was “right” to be with fascism, and the Germans were shown as liberators, in this latest Rai product, the only possible belonging is the national one and the only acceptable choice is the victimized expectation of events. It is not surprising that this film was put in the pipeline during the previous government and that be harshly criticized from Meloni’s party.
No “communist violence”, no “genocide”, complains the Fratelli d’Italia newspaper, which in fact invokes the vision of Red Istria (although cited with the incorrect title), with the heroic fascists who fall to defend their homeland from communist aggression.
“It makes me very angry that [questa vicenda storica] is still the subject of ideological struggle,” he said declared the leading actor, Andrea Pennacchi, at the release of the film.
And yet, isn’t it also an ideological choice to hide the ideological motivations of that era, to show only the national aspect, moreover in an univocal way, ignoring previous Italian crimes? Let’s be clear: among the exaltation of the fascist courage of Red Istria and the purely victimistic representation of The rose of Istria, the latter is certainly preferable. But the real victim of this representation is history, knowledge of events and therefore also, ultimately, their pedagogical function.
Until we are able to understand that the foibe and the exodus are also the consequence of twenty years of fascist violence, of the crimes of the Italian army and of the defeat of Mussolini’s Italy, we will never have taught anything useful to our fellow citizens. The rose of Istria it is yet another clumsy attempt to tell the story in a unique and partial way. It is like a rose without thorns: it may be pleasant, but it is irremediably false.
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