“Commander”, true heroism is humanity. De Angelis, director of the film about the Messina officer Todaro played by Favino, speaks


By John

In theaters the Italian blockbuster on the story of a modern hero who disavowed the rules of war to embrace the laws of rescue at sea and respect for life. «Commander» by Edoardo De Angelisproduced by Indigo Film and O’ Groove with Rai Cinema and distributed by 01, successfully opened the competition at the Venice Film Festival and was presented at the Giornate del Cinema for the Palermo School, on the eighty-third anniversary of the story told . A story of courage which during the Second World War saw the Messina commander Salvatore Todaro (Pierfrancesco Favino) as the protagonist, head of the submarine Cappellini of the Royal Navy. On 16 October 1940, after having sunk the Kabalo, a Belgian merchant steamer which had opened fire, off the Atlantic, Todaro decided, against the advice of his superiors, to save the 26 castaways, adrift on a raft hundreds of miles from it costs.

«A different model of strength – the director tells us – that of a man who extends his hand to the weak, does not overwhelm or colonize, but helps».

The story speaks of morality in the Kantian sense, as a personal, non-objective imperative, which Todaro chose to follow, disavowing the prescriptions imposed by his role. In this sense the film has a high pedagogical value…
«The Kantian idea of ​​morality on the one hand imposes respect and on the other it is reassuring, because otherwise the human being risks being disoriented with respect to laws, precepts, fashion or taste. Instead, there are universal categories that belong to every human being and it is those that every healthy individual should conform to, because they are the ones that history rewards in the end. Todaro contravenes the rules of engagement, as indicated by those who supervise the operations of Italian and German submarines in the Atlantic. Yet while Admiral Doenitz will be sentenced to prison in Nuremberg, Todaro will be awarded the medal for military valor. This means that adapting to the universal laws that regulate humanity necessarily pays off in the long run.”

Rescue at sea and reception. Unfortunately, these are current and much debated issues today at a political and social level. What legacy does this story, which occurred in one of the darkest periods of history, leave behind?
«He leaves a legacy of memory intended as a trace that can become a guide, a lighthouse. If even in the abomination of war, an individual decides, amidst the incessant questions of his crew, to welcome the defenseless men of the ship he sank, saying “no, this is how it is done at sea and it will always be done”, it gives a great teaching that goes beyond the contingent historical moment.”

To those who asked him the reason for his undertaking, Todaro replied “Because I am an Italian”. A phrase beyond the classic rhetoric of military heroism…
«I don’t like military rhetoric and heroes. I’m interested in human beings and if one of them is capable of pronouncing words like that making me vibrate, he also makes me reconcile with my being Italian. As a man from the South I experience a form of historical conflict with respect to the birth of this nation and the idea that Italianness is heralded as a bulwark of closure or worse, of supremacy, rather than of welcome and openness. I recover the pride of being Italian when a man like Todaro tells me from afar “We are Italian because we help, because we leave the door open””.

The genesis of the film has a strong connection with our contemporary history, since it was conceived when Admiral of the Coast Guard Giovanni Pettorino quoted Todaro in reference to the government policies of the time against NGOs. Was making “Comandante” a necessity?
«Pettorino was opposed for having told the story of Todaro and for 4 years he continued to save people at sea without giving any news. The absurd condition has arisen whereby a state body acting in accordance with its mission takes on subversive tones, as also happened to Mimmo Lucano. It is necessary to eliminate this absurd theorem, and with co-writer Sandro Veronesi we wanted to make a mark with a story with universal tones.”

The cast of the film also includes Silvia D’Amico, Massimiliano Rossi and the Catanian actor Danilo Arena.