Forced by Nazis to evacuate their town, Tuscan villagers find refuge in a hillside farmhouse called the Cielo, where close quarters and the exigencies of war bring about a re-examination of their relationships and loyalties.
As in any small town, the residents of Sant’Antonio have long histories and embittered differences among them. Mussolini has further divided the Italians–the fascists support the Nazis while many support the partisans’ guerrilla war. But killing a single Nazi incurs the execution of ten villagers, and the majority of Italians are caught between death if discovered aiding the partisans and the ruthlessness of the partisans themselves. While awaiting liberation by Allied forces, the Sant’Antonio exiles watch their town ransacked and bombed, but can do little more than band together against food shortages and disease. Rosa and Annabella, long bitter over a youthful love triangle, are forced to share a room and reconcile their past. Lucia, 16, risks excursions through mine-sown forests for her romance with a young partisan. Dante, a retired schoolteacher, organizes English lessons, card games and discussions of The Divine Comedy. Despite their agreement to remain within the Cielo, the villagers suffer under the weight of the war’s savagery. When an escaped British prisoner of war seeks refuge, the exiles are divided between altruism and fear of Nazi retribution. The debate exposes fascism in their midst, an ultimate challenge to the cooperation on which survival depends. The war tests spouses’ fidelity as some are called to fight. Even for those accustomed to sleepy small-town life, the pressure cooker of the Cielo exposes secret natures and stirs some to actions of which they hadn’t believed they were capable. Salsini’s plot isn’t confined to the Cielo–he follows young Nazis and partisan fighters, as well as Sant’Antonio’s Father Luigi, alone with his sacraments and radio transmitter. As Allied forces press north, emboldening partisan operations, atrocities mount, testing the faith of even the most religious Italians. Although portrayals occasionally veer close to stereotypes (with exclamations of Mamma mia! and a preoccupation with pasta), the drama diligently explores the complexities and exquisite tortures of wartime existence, the sense of powerlessness and fear and the essential qualities of those who survived.
A well-researched and gripping drama of wartime survival and transcendence.