What I Learned From Vittorio De Sica About Change


Last night I went to this amazing theatre in San Francisco called The Castro where they were doing a retrospective on Vittorio De Sica’s greatest four films.  Twenty years ago, a friend who was an independent filmmaker told me that De Sica had made this amazing film that won the Oscar for best foreign film in 1972 called The Garden of the Finzi-Contini and that if I ever had the opportunity to see it on a big screen to make sure I caught it.

They had digitally remastered it and it truly was a moving experience to watch. To synopsize (for those who have never seen it), this film depicts the lives of Italian Jews in northern Italy contrasting the middle and upper class from 1938-1943. What the film brilliantly demonstrated for me was the price one pays for denial. The Bourgeois middle class father in the film does not want to believe that Mussolini and fascism is as bad as Hitler’s Nazism so he doesn’t get out in time. The upper class think they can bribe the Fascist government and they will never be harmed and you see over time what happens when you live life like a goldfish who doesn’t feel he is being boiled to death because the change in the water temperature happens so slowly. You see in the film their rights being slowly taken away ( first forbidden from schools, then forbidden from having Aryan servants, etc) and how as they keep accommodating the restrictions and make no move to leave their homes, they are eventually taken away to camps.

Although I am not Jewish, my grandfather immigrated his family in the winter of 1933 just as Hitler was beginning to gain power in Germany and the rise of Nazism had begun. My grandparents left a middle class life for a poor working class life in Brooklyn, New York. At the time, my father who was only six hated the cold and urban environment that replaced his southern Italian roots. Little did they know that when the war broke out years later , that my grandmother’s family and their home would be pillaged by the Nazis in Salerno, a key area.

How does one know when it is time to leave behind everything you know to venture into the unknown? Believe it or not, there are signs. As someone who has done it both the easy way and the hard way, I know that observing if Autumn has come to your life is instrumental to preparing for change. So, here is a question to ask about any area of your life that you are pondering whether to change or not: How much is it costing you to stay the same and how much are you benefiting? Are you getting sick a lot or even just noticing chronic, unabating fatigue or drain? Has your income dropped? In one cycle of my life, I was becoming fatigued but it was due to being in a house that had toxic mold in the walls unbeknownst to me.  I didn’t want to move because I had a two bedroom house at the beach that was rent controlled. In the end, I got very sick before discovering this mold through the help of an environmental inspector. When I looked back, I remembered having this vague feeling a year before I started to get sick that it was time to make a change but I didn’t want to give up my beach house so I didn’t listen to the whisper. I had to wait until I was forced to make a decision and had to endure the clamoring of living in a motel for two months because everything I owned was contaminated.

Where in your life has Autumn come?

Write and tell me one action step you will take to clear away the dead leaves as they fall one by one? It takes bravery to be in the in between place and trust you will be guided if you let go of the familiar and embrace the barren trees of winter while waiting for Spring to come and as the Italians say it – destino!