De Sica’s Sunflower speaks volume about love and war

Dr Asyah Al Bualy 

“Love is the only the fall that ascents us to the supreme”. I could not find a better phrase to start the review of the film “Sunflower” than this line from the poem- ‘A woman similes the sea’ by an Omani poet Adel Al Kilbany (1974).

“Sunflower” (I girasoli) is an Italian melodrama that was released in March 1970. Directed by Vittorio De Sica (1901 –1974), an Italian and international film director, staring Sophia Loren( 1934) and Marcello Mastroianni (1924 – 1996). Screen Music composed by Henry Mancini (1924–1994). Produced by: Carlo Ponti (1912 –2007). Giorgi Mdivani ( 1905- 1981) . Arthur Cohn (1927) . Running time of the film is 101 mints.

Sophia Loren is an international movie star. She started her career in 1951. She has acted in one hundred films and won many prominent awards including the Oscar and the Cannes Film award.

In my opinion, Sophia Loren, contrary to her Hollywood’s movies where she is mostly a captive of “beauty and thrilling Icon” with an exception of the film “Black Orchid” (1959), I would say in Italian films, she appears more matured and deeply advanced. Her acting in “A Special Day ” ( 1977) and “Sunflower” (1970 ) among others Italian movies are remarkable.
“Sunflower” is the first European movie to be filmed in the USSR. Some of the scenes were filmed near Moscow, while others near Poltava, which is a regional center in Ukraine. Sunflower was nominated for the academy awards. Nevertheless, it won many awards at various European film festivals.
Sunflower is the story of a woman who existed to love and a man was born to love her. Had it not been for the inevitable moments that Italy encountered during the Second World War, their love would have lasted longer.
“ Giovanna (Sophia Loren) and Antonio (Marcello Mastroianni) who got married in order to delay Antonio’s deployment during World War II that buys them twelve days of happiness, but then they try another scheme, in which Antonio pretends to be a crazy man. Finally, Antonio is sent to the Russian Front. When the war is over, Antonio does not return and is listed as missing in action. Despite the odds, Giovanna is convinced that her true love has survived the war and is still in the Soviet Union. Determined to find him, she journeys to the Soviet Union. Whilst there, Giovanna visits the sunflower fields, where there is supposedly one flower for each fallen Italian soldier, where the Germans forced the Italians to dig their own mass graves. Eventually, Giovanna finds Antonio, but by now, he has started a second family with a woman who saved his life, and they have one daughter. Childless, having been faithful to her husband, Giovanna returns to Italy, heartbroken, but unwilling to disrupt her love’s new life. So
Some years later, Antonio returns to Giovanna, asking her to come back with him to the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, Giovanna has tried to move on with her own life, moving out of their first home together and into her own apartment. She works in a factory and is living with a man, with whom she had a baby boy. Antonio visits her and tries to explain his new life, how war changes a man, how safe he felt with his new woman after years of danger and almost dying. Unwilling to ruin Antonio’s daughter’s or her own new son’s life, Giovanna refuses to leave Italy, expressing an intense emotional maturity in her choice. As they part, Antonio gives her a fur, which he had promised years before that he’d bring back for her. The lovers lock eyes as Antonio’s train takes him away from Giovanna, and from Italy, forever,” describes the story line of the movie from Wikipedia.
The tragic Love story of “Sunflower” as a theme, and as theoretical text no doubt is customary, since many similar love stories were presented in various movies.
¬Director Vittorio De Sica commences the film with wonderful images of fields of large Sunflower plants. Each of them swaying, fated to face the sun and bow for it. This start is crowned by the masterpiece music of Henry Mancini, motivating our emotions, and preparing us to live with an extraordinary love story. Melodrama starts from the first scene, depicting Giovanna searching for her husband‘s name in the military records during the Second World War rejecting any news about his death and convinced he will return to her.
Then comes the flash back as smart cinematic technique to tell us about the love story that started as fancy affair between the soldier Antonio and Giovanna. Where, the latter sits at the table in her black dress staring at her husband’s picture on the wall, like she was inviting him to share dinner with her. Through this moments, she recalls their romantic situations and funny dialogues. It was at the Mediterranean beach with fishing boats and the sunset. The place and time where she declared to keep her military lover, not to let him go to the war again, even if it was only for the duration of the wedding leave of 12 days. Antonio was hugging and kissing her; suddenly, the chock and cough stopped him from continuing. At first sight, it appeared merely as a joke or sense humor from Antonio’s part, in order, to attract Giovanna’s attention. Shortly, the funny situation turns in to a comedy scene, especially when we find out he had swallow his girlfriend’s little earring.
Similar to the previous comic romantic scene, others are presented when recalling the same period: the twelve-day. Like the scenes of the mosquito bite while making love, the scenes of having twenty-five eggs for dinner, and the scenes of kissing in the mental hospital.
Notice the artistic mark of De Sica as a film director in these scenes. His skillfulness was not to present romantic scenes, but to explore comedy in the middle of the melodrama, well detailed in each minor and major event of the film. De Sica dealt with love in this film as a philosophy or theory of life with ambivalent pivot: Tragedy and Comedy.

Love was not only a theme that was presented on screen throughout the film, but a treaty difficult to break or explain the unutterable feeling towards it.
Therefore, and according to the theory of the movie, death can never be fully observed unless if love is understood. The fine line between life and death is epitomized in the idea of fate. If fate has chosen for Giovanna’s loving heart to reach a dead end, she would cry on to the impasse, knowing no barrier prevents love from continuing. According to her, and as apparently in the scenes searching for her beloved – time itself is incapable to stop the stream of love from flowing, even if the spring was towards an unknown track.
Here comes the explanation of the “Sunflower” not only as title of the film and a starting scene, but also as symbol. De Sica in employing this opening was far beyond the embodiment of fields or graves of the Italian soldiers through a visual language. Sunflower in its worshiping the sun (if I may use the verb worship Literary) with its perpetual movement of facing and bowing to the sun, is not merely a flower but a symbol of Giovanna character as a woman; a wife who is in love unconditionally, with extreme adoration of her lover.
Therefore, Giovanna goes on as she holds to her shattered hopes, refusing to let them go and rejecting any transformation of her love into a mirage or an illusion. Consequently, she travels to the Soviet Union to find her beloved. Through her arduous journey, we can sense De Sica’s splendid cinematic style as film director. He, obviously, had the keys to Sophia Loren the actress, he knew how to provoke her and how get out what she had to give. Therefore, through this journey, Giovanna was able to crystallize love in its most solid romantic forms, wherein she makes us aware, and through various scenes that human words or actions can possibly be forgotten. Nevertheless, it is impossible to forget a certain emotion a person made on us to feel. Particularly, if it was love.
If the Sunflower as explained was a symbol of Giovanna on one hand, on the other hand, Giovanna, actually, is a subjective correlative of the Sunflower in the entire movie. I mean by a subjective correlative; that her nonstop motion in the long journey to the Soviet Union is the correlative of the Sunflower’s movement in the breeze and under the sun. Moreover, Giovanna’s amorous story with its vitality is a correlative of life incarnated by the Sunflower. Furthermore, the closure of Giovanna’s amorous story ended sadly by her returning to Italy heartbroken, and the harsh circumstances of war forcing Antonio to start a new second marriage life. This silent dead end is a correlative of death; the soldiers’ graves beneath the sunflower fields.
De Sica in directing the war scenes, his style was obviously very realistic far from falsification. Additionally, his interrelating events of the Second World War, as a subject, with an intense romance, shows the object behind his cinematic formula was not to bring brutality and brusqueness of reality under the spotlight only. However, to reveal the hidden consequences of wars mostly omitted by historians. Wars leave cold wounds, impossible to forget but transcending is possible. Simile to love “The only fall that ascents us to the supreme”.

This review was written asserting that pens are inexhaustible with timeless movies.