Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Secret of Santa Victoria

This is an old English movie starring Anthony Quinn.....pretty obscure actually, its not on any "classic" lists, but its one of my favourites. Dad got the cassette decades ago and I first saw it as a kid. That's one of the reasons I think the movie means so much to takes me back to my childhood.

Moving on, the film is set in WWII Italy -- the town of Santa Victoria to be specifc -- in the days after the fall of Fascism, when the Nazis entered Italy. Santa Victoria is a typical little Italian town whose livelihood, and indeed life, rests on wine-making. Wine is not just something they produce, its in their blood. For some, this is literally true; for example: Quinn's character Bombolini (notice the similarity with "bumble"), quite an apt name considering he's the town clown and drunkard.

After the fall of the fascist regime, the townspeople overthrow the local fascist government that had made their lives hell, and are looking for a new leadership. In the meanwhile, there is another commotion -- Bombolini has climbed a tall water tank and is attempting to paint off an existing painted sign "Long live Mussolini" (a sign that he painted on in the first place!), all while holding a bottle of his beloved wine and being dead drunk, as the townspeople look on, terrified that he'll fall.

For Hindi film buffs, if the water tank, drunk man, bottle of booze and nervous crowd ring a bell, its with good reason .....this is the scene that inspired one of Hindi cinema's most iconic moments -- Dharmendra's "chakki peesing" in Sholay. Getting back to Santa Victoria, after all the drama, Bombolini paints over the sign with the help of a friend and makes it down safely....into the welcoming arms of the crowd who now see the buffoon as a hero. In a fit of collective patriotism (and drunkeness!), he assumes mayorship of the town.....a role, that when sobriety returns, nobody thinks he can fulfil. But determined to make a success of himself, he cleans up and organizes a town council of sorts.

Things move on at a slow small-town pace, till the town's only college student returns abruptly with horrifying news: the Nazis are coming to take all the wine! What follows is a story of how a town where "everybody hates everybody else" unites to save what is rightfully its own, what is most precious to it, and a story of how a drunken buffoon transforms into a leader. There are a mix of smaller love stories interspersed, including how Bombolini regains his long-suffering wife Rosa's respect.

Funny, cynical, serious, sensuous, in parts.....but inspirational overall.....a wonderful film, with equally wonderful performances. The cassette I have is showing its age, so we've been on the lookout for the DVD, but its been hard to find. I may well have to pay a bomb when I do find it, but it'll be totally worth it.


  1. That sounds interesting. Do let me know how much the bomb costs. Will try myself.

  2. Sathish - yup, will let you know if I manage to track it down.