The Medals You Don’t Wear on Your Chest (Documentary Review: “My Italian Secret: The Forgotten Heroes”)
An engrossing, emotional and enlightening portrait of true courage embodied by ordinary citizens, clergy and a superstar athlete, in the face of Nazi terror in Italy during World War II.
My Italian Secret: The Forgotten Heroes is the kind of documentary that will stay with you forever, especially if (like Yours Truly) your roots go back to La Bella Italia. Based on the book, It Happened in Italy by Elizabeth Bettina, it tells the unknown story of several Italian Resistance figures whose heroic and selfless actions helped to save the lives of countless Italian-born and foreign Jews throughout the War. In fact, 80% of the Jews in Italy survived World War II, a stunning statistic on its own. This was no doubt due to the efforts of thousands of unsung heroes from which this film focuses on a handful, framed by the testimonials of a few survivors who tell their own stories as they return to the places and people who risked their lives (and the lives of their own families) to shelter them.
The central figure in My Italian Secret is Gino Bartali, the Florentine born cyclist who won the grueling Giro d’Italia multi-stage race three times (in 1936, 1937 and 1946) and the Tour de France twice (in 1938 and 1948). Bartali was a national and international sports celebrity, as well as an avid Catholic, who abhorred the dictator, Mussolini and resisted il Duce’s efforts to objectify him as an example of Fascist Italian male prowess.
As the film begins, we are introduced to Bartali, the sports legend himself and reluctant political prop. It then winds around the stories of courageous priests, nuns, doctors and ordinary citizens (with tons of actual video footage) before circling back to the story of how exactly Bartali featured so prominently – and heroically – in the Resistance fight. I won’t spoil the suspense by revealing how ingenious was his cover that he was single-handedly responsible for approximately 800 Jews to escape the clutches of the Nazis.
“Some medals aren’t meant to be worn on your shirt, but on your soul.”
Written and directed by Oren Jacoby, with a soulful score composed by Joel Goodman, My Italian Secret at first may seem to jump around a bit until you realize just how many movable parts there were in the Italian Resistance, including countless ordinary citizens throughout the country, as well as the Partisans and the Assisi underground movement (in collaboration with a relief organization called Delasem). And still, approximately 7,680 Italian Jews were executed during the Nazi occupation of Italy.
Mellifluously narrated by Isabella Rossellini, with gruff-voiced American actor, Robert Loggia voicing the few words Gino Bartoli ever shared about his involvement in the War, My Italian Secret: The Forgotten Heroes is a shining reminder about the values of the Greater Good and the Kindness of Strangers, as well as the anonymity that comes with true Charity.
I encourage you to screen the panel discussion (below), moderated by Joy Behar in NYC and featuring the book’s author and other prominent figures from the film as well as survivors in the audience. It helps to understand the film’s setting even more.
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YouTube Trailer Courtesy of: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OG3uSlHzOZ0
YouTube Panel Discussion w Filmmakers Courtesy of: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-xMkMzdayc