Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Matteo Sciabordi, Omar Benson Miller, Michael Ealy, Derek Luke and Laz Alonso in a scene from Miracle at St. Anna

Richard Owen in Rome

It is a story that underpins Italy’s postwar democracy: the honour lost under Benito Mussolini was regained through the struggle of the partisans and their help for the Allies. Now the partisans are fighting for their reputation after a new film by the director Spike Lee which, they say, insults the memory of the Italian Resistance during the Second World War.

Miracle at St Anna retells the story of the massacre of 560 civilians – including women and children – in August 1944 by SS troops as they retreated northwards in the face of the Allied advance.

The film, which highlights the role of African-American soldiers in the war, suggests that antiFascist partisans indirectly caused the atrocity by taking refuge in the village and then abandoning the residents to their fate.

It even shows a partisan named Rodolfo collaborating with the Nazis. This runs directly counter to the accepted Italian version of events, which is that the slaughter was not a reprisal but an unprovoked act of brutality and that the hunt for partisans was a pretext.
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Partisan organisations are to stage protests today at the Italian film premiere, which will take place at Viareggio, on the Tuscan coast, close to the village of Sant’ Anna di Stazzema, the site of the massacre. The film is due for release on Friday.

At a press screening in Rome, James McBride – the black American author who wrote the novel on which Mr Lee’s film was based – said: “I am very sorry if I have offended the partisans. I have enormous respect for them. As a black American, I understand what it’s like for someone to tell your history, and they are not you.

“But unfortunately, the history of World War Two here in Italy is ours as well, and this was the best I could do . . . it is, after all, a work of fiction.”

Mr Lee, unrepentant, said: “I am not apologising.” He told Italians there was “a lot about your history you have yet to come to grips with. This film is our interpretation, and I stand behind it.”

He added that the film, which follows the fate of four black GIs, was intended “to restore the voice of black soldiers who fought in the war”. He said that “not all Italians” had admired the partisans, many of whom fled to the mountains and left civilians to face the Nazis. “I have not invented anything,” he declared.

Giovanni Cipollini, the deputy head of Anpi, the partisans’ association, said the film was a “false reconstruction” and a “travesty of history”. Didala Gherarducci, the secretary of Anpi at Viareggio, said that her husband died in the massacre and she had written to Mr Lee to tell him that his “false” version of events “weighs on my heart like a stone”.

The film has already been released in the US to a mixed reception; in its first week it took only $3.5 million (£2 million) at the box office. Mr Lee said he made it to counteract war films such as Clint Eastwood’sLetters From Iwo JimaandFlags of Our Fathers, in which black US troops were not prominent.