The film L'uomo che Verrà (The Man Who Will Come) makes no sense. Who lives and dies has nothing to do with fairness, justice, compassion, humanity. Yet it is utterly and ruthlessly real. If it lacks sense, that’s only because the slaughters of Italian civilians at the hands of the German army and secret service can hardly be explained with any sense of logic.
|Peasant women making bread together.|
I’ve read about the mass killings at Sant’Anna di Stazzema (560 killed August 12, 1944) and the Padule di Fucecchio (175 killed August 23, 1944), both of which occurred in Tuscany, near the birthplace of my grandparents. But the Strage di Marzabotto, a slaughter which took place from September 29 to October 5 in the vicinity of Monte Sole, claimed even more lives—at least 775—in an attack so brutal and crude that makes one question how humankind has managed to survive this long.
L'uomo che verrà portrays a series of events that go from the winter of 1943 until September 1944 in the Bolognese Apennines. At the center is a family of farmers, which includes Armando Palmieri, his wife Lena and their only daughter Martina, as well as a group of relatives living in the same house. The story is seen mostly through the eyes of Martina, who moves through the scenes almost like a fantasma. She’s 8 years old and hasn’t spoken since her baby brother died her arms a few years before.
In December 1943 Lena becomes pregnant again. As the months pass, the film does a superb job of depicting the everyday life of this community of peasant farmers. Meanwhile, the child grows in Lena’s belly while the signs of war become increasingly evident and disturbing. Some Italian defectors appear, a family from Bologna arrives to escape the bombing of the city and the partisans form a brigade to protect the community and harass the Germans.
And then the first signs of violence and death appear. In the night between 28 and 29 September 1944, the baby finally comes to light, just when the German secret service launches an unprecedented raid, slaughtering civilians in houses, churches, a cemetery and in the streets. Afterwards the Germans are shown in houses of survivors, drinking, laughing and celebrating their victory over what they label in their reports as bandits.
Somehow Martina survives despite being among a group machine-gunned by soldiers. In the final scenes, she runs into the woods to gather up her baby brother, who apparently is the man to whom the title refers. The film ends with her singing him a lullaby, her speech apparently recovered.
There is a small attempt to explain the unexplainable—that is, how such a thing could happen. In one scene, an Italian priest and a German officer converse in the German’s office. He comments in a matter-of-fact manner: “Tutti noi siamo quello c’e’ hanno insegnato di essere. E’ un questione di educazione.” We are all as we were taught to be. It’s a matter of education.
This harsh truth seems so simple, so blunt, and yet so inadequate. But this movie is not about justice, fairness or the way things should be. It just shows what was, offering only the hope that bringing to light the events at Marzabotto will help deter a future reoccurrence.