leave a comment --Ken Fox
Alberto Negrin's taut, real-life account of Giorgio Perlasca's efforts to save a group of Jews from Hitler's death camps has been called Italy's answer to SCHINDLER'S LIST (1993), but it's really the Italian GOOD EVENING, MR. WALLENBERG (1990). Like Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish envoy to Budapest who bribed Nazi officers and sheltered Jews in Swedish diplomatic safe houses, Perlasca was a righteous gentile who also found himself in the besieged Hungarian capital and used similar strategies to save some Jews from certain death. Budapest, 1944: Germany has invaded Hungary, a coup has put the vicious Hungarian Nazi militia in power and Adolph Eichmann himself is in Budapest to organize the extermination of Hungary's Jews. Giorgio Perlasca (Luca Zingaretti), a former Italian Fascist who fought in Spain, only wants to rejoin his wife in Trieste, but few are allowed to leave the city. As the encircling Soviets besiege Budapest, storm troopers arrest Italians suspected of conspiring against the new government. After a plan to acquire bogus documents fails, Perlasca finds a ruined sanitarium where a courageous gentile doctor (Jean-Francois Garreaud) is sheltering Jewish refugees. They're discovered by ruthless Captain Bleiber (Gyorgy Cserhalmi) and forced to flee, but Perlasca, determined to save a single mother (Amanda Sandrelli) and her young daughter, marches over to the Spanish embassy, whips out his open letter of introduction from General Franco and demands that the Spanish ambassador, Sanz Briz (Geza Tordy), do something. Briz moves them to the diplomatic safe houses where hundreds of Jews have already found refuge under international law, but it's only a matter of time before the sanctuaries are emptied and their inhabitants deported. Perlasca saves them all with a last minute bribe, but soon after learns that the embassy is about to be abandoned; once the ambassador is gone, so is the diplomatic protection. Not to be thwarted so late in the game, Perlasca hits upon a bold plan: He'll impersonate the Spanish consul himself, and if Perlasca's heroism isn't already clear, his courage is offset by the passivity of Spanish-Jewish embassy lawyer Farkas (Jerome Anger). It's heavy-handed as are Ennio Morricone's romantic score and Perlasca's direct question to viewers, "What would you do if you were in my shoes?" but it somehow all adds up. While not as morally complex as either SCHINDLER'S LIST or GOOD EVENING, MR. WALLENBERG, Negrin's film is a well-deserved tribute to a principled man who dared to act when principles no longer counted for anything.