Padre Padrone (1977): Taviannis’s Brutal Tale of Brutal Childhood, Winner of Cannes Film Festival Top Award

(also known as Father and Master)

With Padre, Padrone, the highly acclaimed Italian brothers, Paolo and Vittorion Tavianni, have made a rough movie about rural childhood in Sardinia, which is inspired by the Italian neo-realism, grounded in a particular historical reality, shot on location, and using a cast that combines both professional and non-professional actors. Originally shot for Italian television, Padre Padrone played at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the top jury award, the Palme d’Or.

Based on an autobiographical book of the same title by Gavino Ledda, the tale depicts in ultra-graphic details the early life of an illiterate shepherd who is terrorized by his brutal, domineering father.  Against all odds—blessed with an iron will, courageous determination, and instinctive intelligence, he acquires formal education at a later age and achieves formidable reputation as a scholar and writer.

The first scene is set at a Sardinian elementary school, where the protagonist, the six-year old Gavino (Saverio Marconi) is a student—though not for long.  One day, his tyrannical peasant father (Omero Antonutti) barges in and informs the teacher that he’s pulling Gavino out of school so that he can herd the family sheep.

Under his father’s watchful eyes and the victim of both verbal and physical abuse, Gavino spends 14 years tending sheep in the Sardinian mountains in complete isolation from family, community, and civilization. While discovering various elements of nature for himself, he begins a slow process of rebellion against his father.

Gavino is rescued from his family and his isolation when he is called for military service. In service, he becomes subject to another form of abuse due to his illiteracy and use of Sardinian dialect, which is not only prohibited but also not considered a legitimate language

Nonetheless, with the help of a peer, he begins to learn Italian, mostly from a dictionary, and also through limited social interaction. During his service, he also learns about electronics and classical music, eagerly yearning to acquire a formal education.

Back home, another clash erupts, when Gavino declares his intent to attend university. Defying his father, who threatens to punish him, Gavino goes to school, and eventually becomes a linguist, specializing in the origins of the Sardinian dialect, as well as the famous author of books.

The first hour of the film is so vivid in graphic detail and so coarse in conduct that viewers may find it hard to watch, specifically scenes of bestiality, masterbation, and vulgar behavior (farting) that nonetheless always rings true and often is very moving.  I have shown Padre Padrone in various colleges courses, and at each screening at least two or three students walked out, claiming that this kind of subject matter should not be tolerated, an opinion with which I obviously strongly disagree.

The movie is bookended by a voice over narration, which introduces and concludes the story, providing Ledda’s motivation for why the book was written and commentary on the mercilessy brutal and taough life of rural Sardinian children of the lowers class.

 

 

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