I am not a movie critic; I cannot judge the quality of a script, or lighting, or camera work, or how much money it makes in the box office. I rate the movies I watch based on my emotional barometer. If it stays on 0 marks, I’ve wasted my time; if it goes off the scale, I’ve made a good choice. Sunflower, Italian drama directed by Vittorio De Sica with Sophia Loren (Giovanna) and Marcello Mastroianni (Antonio) playing the leads, is a good choice.
My son did not do well on his Italian test. In my attempt to help him improve his listening skills, I’ve decided to watch the movie in Italian with English subtitles. New Italian phrases and words were not the only things he got out of this movie.
Sunflower is about love and war, about humanity and hope. Giovanna and Antonio got married and, then he simulated the mental illness to postpone his deployment to Africa, but happiness did not last long. After the authorities discovered that he was faking insanity, he was forced to volunteer to Russia (2nd World War). He did not come back, but Giovanna felt that he was alive, and traveled to Russia to find him. He had another family with a Russian woman and a little daughter. She fled back to Italy, and eventually created a family with a co-worker. Antonio and Giovanna met briefly at the end, but decided to part their separate ways.
The plot is not unique; it has been told in many books and movies. The war devastated a lot of families, mixed things up. It was not that unusual for the people to wait for the loved ones to return for many years, or the person thought to be dead come back alive. What striked me the most was how Vittorio De Sica portrayed it in the movie. As they say: “The devil is in the details.” I’ve watched a lot of movies about the war, Russian and American, yet “Sunflower” made it very real for me. The women standing on the train station meeting the soldiers coming from the war, holding the pictures of their loved ones, hoping someone would recognize them. The procession of Italian soldiers barely walking in the gruesome Russian winter, with wind blowing into their faces, biting into the flesh. Look on the Antonio friend’s face, considering whether he should try to drag him, or leave him, and let him die in the snow. The lone log cabin in the middle of the snow-covered field packed with Russian soldiers, sleeping standing up. Historical black and white footage of women and children digging the graves. Never-ending rows of simple wooden crosses with the names of Italian soldiers written on them. The most beautiful sunflower field planted on burial ground. There was no shooting, no screaming, no sound of bombs or artillery; only silence-silence, that spoke louder than words.
My son expected the happy end; he was quite disappointed. Isn’t it the point of the movie to make the good guy win, love birds reunite, and live happily ever after?
What I like about this movie is its simplicity. There was no blood running with limbs piling up the battlefield, no transformers discharging gigantic bullets from their enormous guns while making wild sounds; no aliens invading the Earth; and Superman did not come to the rescue either. Characters did not drown their tears in drugs and alcohol, and hair was not pulled out from their respective heads (except occasional ripping off pictures and breaking the dishes). There was no cursing and yelling, and no corpses to speak of. There were a man and a woman, and their story. They did not say many words to each other, their time together was brief, yet it made it all worthwhile.