2020 marks the 50th anniversary of Vittorio De Sica’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. It’s the tale of an elite Jewish family sequestered behind the walls of their Ferrara estate, ignoring the cascade of Jewish restrictions in Mussolini’s Italy until too late. Back in 1972, the film changed my life.Now I’m reliving it just in time for anniversary screenings at the New York Jewish Film Festival (Jan. 26 and 27): partnership of the Jewish Museum and Film at Lincoln Center, now through Jan. 28.
When I saw the film with my parents at the New Rochelle art film theater on Main Street, I identified with the protagonists, the aristocratic Finzi-Continis, at play on their tennis court, in their gated garden. When they, too, get deported along with the poorer Jews, I thought, “if I’m ever going to be taken away for being Jewish, I want to know what Jewish is.” So I moved to Israel. And it changed my life.