In this film, director Franco Brusati brings to life a common theme in 70’s cinema, packaged in commedia all’italiana film genre ; the struggle to find your own identity in a foreign land. It’s a universal theme we can find in today’s challenges of immigrants.
Idyllic park scene where poor Nino eats his sandwich: a bread to satisfy his hunger,
but with no money for meat, he settles for much accessible chocolate
Nino Manfredi provides an exquisite portrayal of Nino Garofalo, an Italian from Ciociaria who left his family and kids for a job in Switzerland. He works in a fancy restaurant as a waiter-on-trial competing with a Turkish waiter for a permanent position.
Throughout the film, you can see the tremendous efforts Nino makes to adapt to the Swiss culture, at the extreme he even dyes his hair blond. Yet, there is a constant struggle between his Italian identity and the new one he attempts to adopt. This constant tension is accentuated in the numerous incidents when he comes across Napolitans who sing their heart out, but for Nino their songs represents the most vulgar past he’s trying to break away from.
And when you think about it, here are some of the challenges an immigrant has to deal with: uprooted from his family and friends, new language, unclear job prospects, often times different climate (in this case snowy mountains), and above all a complete culture where you need to build your life from zero as none of the typical support systems such as family and friends are available. All Nino, and any immigrant for that matter has, is a strong will to make it in the new country and iron pride mixed with the perennial threat of returning back home as a loser.
The quest for a better life elsewhere brings about cultural clashes with the native Swiss that in several scenes are portrayed as perfect human specimen compared to the Italian immigrants. Most notably, is the chicken coop scene where the difference between life of the illegal immigrants and chickens is marginal, at best.
This constant identity struggle is eloquently articulated with Nino’s friend Elena (Anna Karina), urging him “scegli di vivere – choose to live” when Nino is almost ready to give up and return home, penniless. And as we all know the need to make peace with yourself and find the right path that effectively settles your past with your future is part of the human condition, regardless if you have just landed in America or 5th generation native.