Eye For Film >> Movies >> Perlasca: The Courage Of A Just Man (2002) Film Review
Giorgio Perlasca could be best described as an Italian Oskar Schindler, a well-connected entrepreneur charged with procuring supplies for his countrymen engaged in battle on the frontlines. Perlasca also utilised his diplomatic credentials to aid in the rescue of thousands of Jewish citizens, more than Schindler himself according to records. Set amidst World War II, this Italian production screens as two episodes coming in at just over three hours, with Zingaretti (Montalbano) takes on the titular role accompanied by a musical score from the inimitable cinematic titan Ennio Moricone.
The story of Perlasca has notable similarities with that of Schindler and benefits enormously from an audacious and emotionally intuitive performance from Zingaretti, who throws himself into the fray of 1944 Hungary in a quest to save those around him from deportation and genocide. Over forty years would pass before Perlasca’s incredible heroism would become known. When later asked about his acts, Perlasca would say “I saw people being killed and, quite simply, I couldn’t stand it. I had the opportunity to do something, and I did what I could. Anyone, in my place, would have done what I did.” (Saving the Jews: Amazing Stories of Men and Women Who Defied the “Final Solution” by Mordecai Paldiel). The translation of the title is perhaps more apt than is immediately apparent, in portraying the courage of a just man.
Perlasca’s tale is profoundly moving yet told with subtlety and, in places, bravery by director Alberto Negrin. The oft referenced exchange with an SS Colonel, the infamous Adolf Eichmann is perhaps most indicative of Perlasca’s daring endeavours. When he witnesses Nazi’s herding local Jews onto a freight train, Perlasca uses his Spanish diplomatic status to claim protective status over two young boys. In a heated exchange that culminates in the SS Colonel releasing them into Perlasca’s care, these two would number in over five thousand lives he would ultimately save. Eichmann would eventually be executed at the hands of an Israeli civil court, following capture by Mossad agents in Argentina during the early 1960’s.
The most striking aspect of Perlasca’s story is the transition of the character from a seemingly self-interested businessman into a righteous saviour. With his Italian nationality and Spanish passport, Perlasca could have easily fled Nazi controlled territories, yet he remained. In so doing, he would proceed to shepherd thousands to safety using the safe conduct of a Spanish law enacted in 1924 granting citizenship to Sephardi Jews.
The plot stays true to the source material with minimal embellishment, with Zingaretti’s performance and Moricone’s score notable highpoints of the piece. Negrin handles the inevitable and necessary scenes of Nazi brutality with skill in what is ultimately defined by the optimism and indefatigability of the human spirit in the face of unfathomable and unspeakable acts.
In telling the story of Perlasca, Negrin’s production poses some stark questions on humanities propensity to seek shelter in the embrace of authoritative regimes, regress to obedient subservience or, in Perlasca’s case, throw off the yolk of tyranny at enormous personal risk. Before his death in 1992, Perlasca would receive decorations from the Italian, Spanish and Hungarian governments along with recognition by the State of Israel as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. The highest accolade one could bestow on Negrin’s production is that it is a worthy tribute to this incredible story.Reviewed on: 25 Apr 2013