(La Notte di San Lorenzo)

Directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani. Italy. 1982.

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The Night of the Shooting Stars is the semi-autobiographical recollection by the Taviani Brothers of the night when a group of peasants in a small Tuscan village left their homes that had been mined by the Fascists to look for liberating American soldiers rumoured to be on the outskirts. Set on the night of the Feast of St. Lawrence in the closing days of World War II, and enhanced by a haunting score by Nicola Piovani, the film is a tragi-comic glimpse of what the war was like to an impressionable child filtered through years of memory. It is essentially a series of vignettes combining fact, memory, and poetic imagination told in flashback by a mother recalling her days as a 6-year old girl named Cecilia caught in the middle of war. 

The film focuses on the nature of a conflict in which life long friends from the same village are often engaged in the struggle on different sides. Especially vivid is a scene involving a battle in a wheat field between the villagers and home grown Fascists, and a heart wrenching confrontation between the partisans and a father with his 15-year old son. There are many other poignant moments as well: a young couple expecting a child, the village priest who is a collaborator, and an elderly couple rekindling a romance started when they were adolescents. 

Night of the Shooting Stars pays homage to the tradition of neo-realism, but also includes surrealistic moments such as when the young girl sees the partisans as Greek warriors, while the Fascist who threatens her life falls dead, pierced by multiple spears. Though Night of the Shooting Stars suffers from overacting, its unique approach allows us to see war as a very personal experience with all of its sadness and cruelty. It was also gratifying to see Americans being held in high esteem, an experience we haven't enjoyed much of recently.

Howard Schumann
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