Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Movie Review: Pius XII: Under the Roman Sun (2010)

Pius XII: Under the Roman Sun (2010) directed by Christian Duguay

This 200-minute made-for-TV movie (in two parts) depicts Pope Pius XII during World War II. He lives in Vatican City surrounded by Axis-controlled Rome. As the movie starts, the Germans are moving in since Mussolini is faltering and the Allies have landed on Italy. Part of the German's program is to deport Italian Jews to the German concentration camps. So both the war and the Holocaust loom over the city. The story isn't just about Pius XII. At least half the story follows three Jews who live in the Jewish Ghetto--two guys and a gal. At the beginning they have a love triangle--intellectual and supporter of the resistance Marco is the "nice guy" while black market profiteer Davide is the "bad guy." He's not so bad, though. He helps out people when he can. The girl is Miriam, whose father owns a bookshop with a secret printing press in the basement. In addition to producing propaganda, they can forge travel documents. As the Nazis clamp down, they are forced to flee, though our trio can't make it out of the city and have to hide in local monasteries and convents (which has been allowed by a direct order from Pius XII). The story goes on until the liberation of Rome by American troops in 1944.

James Cromwell (from Babe and L. A. Confidential) plays Pius XII and does a fine job showing both his inner conflict and his integrity. The three actors in the love triangle (which is fairly chaste and the romantic part resolves about half way through, leaving them to suffer under the German threats) are okay but their storyline is cliche and less interesting than the actual historical events. The Nazis characters run the gamut from fairly interesting to one-dimensional and wooden.

The history is accurate but occasional bits (like the flashback describing how a papal encyclical denouncing the Nazi government was distributed and received in 1930s Germany) feel more like an infomercial than good storytelling. At one point in the movie the Nazis plot to kidnap Pius XII but nothing interesting ever comes of it. The movie looks like it is trying to balance historical accuracy with an interesting story but overall doesn't hit the mark.

Surely this accurate depiction of Pius XII's actions to protect Jews during World War II is important but the movie isn't as satisfying as it could be.

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