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||Giovanni Guareschi (1908-1968)|
Italian journalist, humorist, and novelist, famous for his stories of an Italian village where Father Camillo, the stubborn Catholic priest, is constantly in trouble with the local Communist mayor Peppone. These two Tom and Jerry figures of the Cold War polarization and their ideological disputes are depicted with warm humour. Giovanni Guareschi's books gained a huge popularity also outside Italy. They have sold over twenty-three million copies worldwide.
Don Camillo leaned toward Peppone and whispered in his ear:
Giovanni Guareschi was born in Fontanelle di Roccabianca, near
Parma. His father, Primo Augusto, owned a small shop, and Lina
Maghenzani, his mother, was the village's elementary school teacher.
Cuareschi's childhood was happy, but the family lost all their money in
the financial crisis of 1926-27 and Guareschi was unable to continue
his studies at the University of Parma. Before entering into journalism
he worked as a doorman at a sugar refinery in Parma, boarding school
teacher and a proofreader. Guareschi wrote first for a local newspaper.
In 1929 he became editor of the magazine Corriere Emiliano, and from 1936 to 1943 he was the chief editor of the humorous magazine Bertoldo, in Milan.
In 1940 Guareschi married Ennia Pallini, his Parmese sweetheart, whom he had known several years; she became the center of his autobiographical columns. Guareschi's first book, La Scoperta di Milano (1941), dealt with his family life. During World War II Guareschi joined Italian Army – partly to avoid a trial after he had in the midlle of the night loudly mocked Mussolini's government: "Well, in those two hours (from one o'clock to three) I shouted things that the next day I found diligently transcribed in a report and shown to me by an important person of the UPI in his office in Via Pagano." (Don Camillo Stories of Giovannino Guareschi: A Humorist Portrays the Sacred by Alan R. Perry, 2008, p. 13) In 1943 the Royal Air force destroyed Guareschi's home in a bombing raid. When the Allies signed an armistice with Italy, Guareschi was arrested by the Germans, and sent to a concentration camp in Poland. These experiences Guaraschi described in his war memoirs Diario Clandestino 1943-45. He also wrote a play, La Favola di Natale (1945) for his fellow inmates. The play was based on a dream which flies with his son Alberto above the barbed wire back to Italy.
While in a prison in Milan, Guareschi met the partisan and
Roman Catholic Priest, Don Camillo Valota, who was en route to the
Dachau concentration camp. He was a widely admired figure among
Resistance fighters. His ideals, to act according to one's conscience,
rather than political or ideological beliefs to get rid of Fascism,
made a deep impact on Guareschi.
A few months after his Guareschi's return in 1945, he was hired together with Carlo Mosca and Gianci Mondaini, to found the satirical and Monarchist weekly Candido. Mosca and Guareschi were co-editors until 1950. Guareschi' s writings mostly attacked the Communist and were then used by the anti-Communist block for their purposes. His political satires and posters contributed to the defeat of the Communists in 1948. However, Guareschi also mocked the government and Christian Democrats. In 1954 he published two facsimile letters allegedly written by Alcide de Gasperi, leader of the Christian Democratic Party and the Prime Minister. These wartime letters contained a suggestion by De Gasperi, then a leader in the Resistance, that the British military authorities bomb Rome in order to demoralize supporters of Germany and end the war sooner. De Gasperi denied authorship and successfully sued, and Guareschi was sentenced to a year in jail for libel. "I take the guilty verdict the same way I would a punch in the face," he wrote. "I don't care about showing that it's been given to me unjustly." (Don Camillo Stories of Giovannino Guareschi: A Humorist Portrays the Sacred by Alan R. Perry, 2008, p. 20) Guareschi refused to appeal, and spent 409 days in Parma's San Francesco prison, and then six months on probation. The court never proved that the letters were false. While in prison, Guareschi wrote the screenplay for the third Mondo piccolo film, Don Camillo e l'onorevole Peppone (1955).
Guareschi suffered his first heart attack in 1962. Since his imprisonment Guareschi's health had slowly deteriorated; he also smoked and had a weight problem. In the village of Roncole Verdi, where he had moved with his family in the 1950s, he began to run a cafe next to Giuseppe Verdi's home and then expanded it into a restaurant. Guareschi worked incessantly. Just in case of emergency, he had two Olivetti typewriters. While on vacation in Cervia, Guareschi died in a hotel room, after another heart attack, on July 22, 1968. His private office and personal archive was left untouched for decades.
In the 1950s Guareschi's Don Camillo stories made him one of the most popular writers of Italy, but he was not a favorite of the critics. Guareschi declared himself an anti-intellectual and mocked the literati. Until the 1990s, his work was largely ignored by academic research. However, he became one of the most translated Italian authors of the twentieth century. The first tale appeared in 1946 in Candido, and was received with enthusiasm. In his feature 'Mondo piccolo' Guareschi depicted a small village by the River Po – "The Po begins at Piacenza, and so does the world of my stories, a little world situated on that slice of the Plain that stands between the river and the Apennines". ('Introduction,' in The Little World of Don Camillo, translated by Adam Elgar, 2013, p. x) The two main characters are a cantankerous parish priest, Don Camillo Tarocci (his surname is rarely mentioned), and a stubborn Communist mayor, Giuseppe Bottazzi, better know as Peppone, have opposite views in all possible social, political, moral, and other issues. At the same time, there is a strong bond between these two great characters. There is also a third character, il Christo on the crucifix above the high altar. His voice guides Don Camillo gently and with humor. These short stories, which Guareschi first wrote for the weekly Candido, he collected in anthologies.
In a typical story (from The Little World of Don Camillo, 1948) an old house has caught fire. Camillo and Peppone with a crowd of people have arrived on the scene. Peppone smells kerosene odors, and Camillo wants to see the fire closer. Peppone follows, they both don't want to retreat. Suddenly they hear a voice saying "Stop!" and turn around, running to safe. The house explodes. Afterwards, on their way back home, Camillo tells that he had set the house on fire because there was a weapons cache in the cellar. Peppone confesses that he is relieved because it had worried him like the sword of Damocles. Camillo tells Peppone that he took one machine gun with him, to be ready when the revolution breaks out.
With undestanding satire, the antagonism between Communist block and Western World, right and left, was reduced in the village the to human size. Guareschi's skill to make both sides look funny but in their own way reasonable gained the author a wide audience. Although Guareschi was a devout Catholic and his sympathies were more on Camillo's side, the Church never officially embraced him. Often his solution to confrontations was a compromise, neighbourly love and reconciliation. "Let us keep within the law, Don Camillo," Jesus says in 'The Trial of Strength'. "If you can only show someone he is wrong by gunning him down, then what, may I ask, was the point of allowing myself to be crucified?" Moreover, Guareschi's ability to describe the social-political problems believable also led his readers to think, that the village really exists and they started to send there relief packets.
Many of the Don Camillo stories have been adapted into movies and television shows. The title role was played by the French-born character actor Fernandel in five productions. Though they were very popular, Guareschi felt that the films were not faithful to the spirit and message of his tales. In the TV series Pequeno Mundo de D. Camillo (1957), produced in Brazil by TV Tupi, Otelo Zeloni and Heitor de Andrade played Don Camillo and Peppone. Mario Adorf and Brian Blessed were in the central roles in BBC's 13 part television series from 1981, entitled The Little World of Don Camillo.
In 1962, accepting the offer of the owner of Opus Films, Gastone Ferranti, Guareschi decided to collaborate with the Marxist writer and director Pier Paolo Pasolini on a full-length film falled La rabbia (1963, Rage), which they both edited separately from unused newsreel footage from the archives of cinegiornale Mondo Libero. In his part, Guareschi argued over pictures of violence at a rock 'n' roll concert in France: "The frantic search for material goods, the lack of faith in the future, the disintegration of the family, these are the roots of our discontent and anguish." ('Comparative Anti-Americanism in Western Europe' by David Ellwood, in Transactions, Transgressions, Transformations: American Culture in Western Europe and Japan, edited by Heide Fehrenbach and Uta G. Poiger, 2000, p. 34) After seeing Guareschi's episode, Pasolini withdrew from the whole project. "It's got everything: racism, the yellow peril, and the typical Fascist presentation of 'evidence' – an accumulation of facts that cannot be demonstrated," Pasolini argued. "I don't want to be an accomplice to such a horrible thing." (Don Camillo Stories of Giovannino Guareschi: A Humorist Portrays the Sacred by Alan R. Perry, 2008, p. 153) Pasolini's first part, a one-hundred-minute-long film, was chopped by Ferranti in half. La Rabbia received bad reviews and failed at the box office. The film was shelved in 1963 possibly because Warner Bros. did not accept Guareschi's anti-Americanism. (Drive in Cinema: Essays on Film, Theory and Politics by Marc James Léger, 2015, p. 181) Raro Video released the two-part compilation in 2011.
Guareschi and Finland: During the era of President Kekkonen, from the late 1950s to the 1980s, Guareschi's books were very popular in Finland and read as comments on contemporary politics. Similarities between the political situation in Finland and Italy are several: a strong Communist movement, clear dichotomy between left and right, influential church institution – Protestant in Finland, but no less visible. When the Reds lost the Finnish Civil War (1917-18), the Communist Party was more or less illegal in the 1920s and 1930s. After World War II the Communist movement gained strong support in parliament elections and in local politics. Although religious debate wasn't such a big issue in the Lutheran Finland, the men of principle were as stubborn in the backwoods of Finland as in the famous small village somewhere by the river Po. Guareschi's popularity started to decline with the fall of the Communist movement, but in the late 1988 his short stories were reprinted by the publishing house WSOY in the Bestsellers series.
Camillo films starring Fernandel (Fernand Contandin, 1902-1971): Le Petit monde de Don Camillo / The Little World of Don Camillo (1952), dir. Julien Duvivier; Le retour de Don Camillo / The Return of Don Camillo (1953), dir. Julien Duvivier; La Grande bagarre de Don Camillo / Don Camillo's Last Round / Don Camillo e l'on (1955), dir. Carmine Gallone; Don Camillo Monseigneur / Don Camillo monsignore ma non troppo (1961), dir. Carmine Gallone; Il compagno Don Camillo / Don Camillo in Moskow (1965), dir. Luigi Comencini. The sixth Don Camillo film in the Fernandel-Cervi series was never completed. Gino Cervi (1901-1974): Italian actor, who was best known in the postwar years for his role as Peppone. Cervi's prolific career spanned five decades. Other Don Camillo films: Don Camillo e giovani d'oggi (1972), dir. Mario Camerini, starring Lioner Stander as Peppone, the Communist mayor, and Gastone Moschin as Don Camillo; Don Camillo (1983), dir. Terence Hill, screenplay Lori Hill, starring Terence Hill (Don Camillo) and Colin Blakely (Peppone). For further reading: Framing Literary Humour: Cells, Masks and Bodies as 20th-century Sites of Imprisonment by Jeanne Mathieu-Lessard (2020); Don Camillo Stories of Giovannino Guareschi: A Humorist Portrays the Sacred by Alan R. Perry (2008); 'Guareschi, Giovanni,' in World Authors 1900-1950, Vol. 2, edited by Martin Seymour-Smith and Andrew C. Kimmens (1996); My Secret Diary by Giovanni Guareschi (1958); My Home, Sweet Home by Giovanni Guareschi (1966); The Family Guareschi by Giovanni Guareschi (1970); Catholic Authors, edited by M. Hoehn (1952)