The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Films from Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
In Father and Master, based on Gavino Ledda’s memoir, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani portray Ledda’s coming out of the shadow of his father, a Sardinian shepherd whose severity is dictated by overwhelming poverty, harsh terrain, hard work, and Italian patriarchy. Until he is 18, Gavino works (as his mother puts it) “alone alone” in his father’s pasture, guarding sheep and tending to crops.
The film opens with the actual Ledda, age 35, now a linguist despite having been illiterate for the first half of his life, stripping a tree branch and handing the result to the actor playing his father, saying, “My father always carried a stick.” The actor graciously thanks Ledda, but this graciousness instantly evaporates as the actor slips into his role and into the schoolroom from which he will remove little Gavino. This concise opening ironically reflects on the extent to which environment contributes to human behavior; but for their different circumstance, the father might have been like the person who is playing him. In mimicking his father by fashioning the stick, moreover, Ledda makes the kind of implement with which his father punished (and, once, nearly killed) him. Because Ledda betrays no emotion, we fill in by imagining how Ledda must feel amongst his private memories. The Taviani brothers have drawn us into their film.
There is the slow, trotting journey to the distant, isolated pasture where Gavino must stay, and the father’s moving attempt to educate his son as to the sounds of the pasture. Conjoined with images of Nature, the father’s voice becomes disembodied, creating a haunting echo of the past.
The first part of the film is brilliant; the second part, charting Gavino’s victory over his past through education, should have been condensed into a page or two of script.
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