“The Commander”, that “disobedient” hero from Messina inaugurates the Venice Exhibition


By John

«Tacit and invisible the submarines leave», the fascist anthem dedicated to the submariners introduces the theme: «Comandante» by Edoardo De Angelis opened in competition Venezia 80 (it will arrive in theaters on November 1st with 01 Distribution). Italy has created a rare war film, a 14 and a half million euro blockbuster with the faithful 1:1 construction of the Cappellini submarine, to tell the legendary story of a highly decorated WWII soldier famous for his feats of courage and of disobedience.

In 1940 the Messina commander Salvatore Todaro (Pierfrancesco Favino)despite a permanent fracture in his spine that makes him spit blood and keep morphine in the drawer, he is the charismatic leader of the submarine Cappellini of the Royal Navy with the mission dictated by the fascist and German military leaders: ambush in the Atlantic. His correspondence with his wife Rina (Silvia D’Amico) is the underlying theme of the film. His troop of sailors and officers are on board, proud of it, they chase away fear by praying and singing “Un’ora sola ti I would like”, another hit of those years. The sinking of the Belgian merchant ship Kabalo is what Todaro goes down in history: he disobeys the military law of war to eliminate as much iron and as many victims as possible and saves 26 shipwrecked people by taking them to a safe port in the Azores, sailing on the surface, putting the crew themselves in danger of Cappellini. He will infuriate his people, he will have the Belgians eternally grateful, he will ensure with his example to history the precedence of the law of the sea, of rescue at sea, over all other human laws and when asked about the reason for his gesture, he will proudly answer: «Because I am an Italian”.

A true story, of a unique character, contradictory, «ready to strike and sink all enemies and to become invulnerable again when I save their lives. This is how it has always been done at sea and will always be done and those who don’t do it will be cursed.” A few words to the wise and, moreover, the inspiration to write this film came to Edoardo De Angelis and Sandro Veronesi (the screenplay is now a Bompiani novel) when Admiral Pettorino, commander of the Coast Guard, in 2018, in front of the then Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini (present yesterday in the Great Hall), quoted Todaro and said that “at sea there is only one obligation, to provide aid, to save lives”.

De Angelis shuffles the cards, plays with rhetoric, adds theatricality, romanticism, poetry to realism, makes Todaro-Favino a melody star, uses the high seas and Cappellini’s profile as a scenography for La Scala, the soldiers are choristers The opera, the drama of war, has the musical rhythm of period marches.

Afraid of political readings for «Commander»? The director Edoardo De Angelis and the interpreter, Pierfrancesco Favino immediately say a firm “no” talking to journalists. Although some observers have already noticed that Todaro, after that adventure, joined the X Mas (the production, however, with great caution, in the notes specifies «an after September 8th”). The fact is that this film about solidarity was born, according to the director himself, in 2018, in the period of the policy of containment of migrants by the then Interior Minister Salvini. «The reactions of those who see transcend those who actually made the film. I only hope that those who watch Commander agree that there are eternal immutable laws, like the laws of the sea, which must not be broken”, replies the director elegantly.

But who was Todaro really? Favino explains: «A magnificent example of what I also look for in my profession. He was a practicing Catholic, a spiritualist, but also a lover of oriental philosophy and a convinced military man. In short, he was a man full of gradations, which is what I look for and love in a human being. Finally Todaro was one capable of disobeying». As regards hospitality, the actor who speaks a metallic Venetian dialect in the film further explains: «I know something about hospitality, I come from a particular family. Every now and then I had to leave my room because my parents were hosting someone in need. In my house the door was always open and it is something that I still apply in my life.” At a certain point Favino gets really emotional, remembering what happened with Todaro’s daughter, Graziella Marina: «When I met her she told me that she was very grateful to me, because I had given her father a voice that she hadn’t had. known”.