Cinema: “Amara terra mia” – Docudrama about Italian immigrants

TTwo women meet in the cemetery chapel and start fighting over the urn… What starts out as a bad joke actually happens in real life from time to time – and it’s not funny there either. In the docudrama “Amara terra mia – Mein bitteres Land”, however, the bizarre scene still seems weird in a weird way.

With her begins the adventurous journey of the half-sisters Carla (Adriana Altanas) and Maria Grazia (Daniela Morozzi) Rossi, who only get to know each other after the death of their father when they are around 50 years old. One grew up with her mother in Italy, the other with her mother in Germany. “Both only know half the story of their Italian father,” explains author and director Ulrich Waller, who wrote and realized the film together with Dania Hohmann and Eduard Erne.

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With the urn tucked under their arm, the two wranglers travel by train to Italy, to the home village of the deceased, and to the past, in which between 1962 and 1976 alone around two million Italian “guest workers”, as they called it at the time, came to Germany. The film from 2020 tells their fate, which will catch up on its Hamburg premiere on Monday, January 17th in the Zeise cinema. It was shown at the Hamburg Film Festival the year before last and then did not go to the cinema as planned due to the pandemic.

Around 800,000 citizens of Italian descent live in Germany today, almost half of them were born here. Most of the workforce that came in the early years has long since returned home. Those who stayed usually started a family and mostly found a new home in Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia or Berlin. The Italians who immigrated are now regarded as the best example of successful integration.

Director Ulrich Waller

Director Ulrich Waller

What: pa/ rtn – radio tele nord

But that was not always the case – and a reason for Hohmann and Waller to shoot the docudrama after two plays on the subject. It shows the difficulties and prejudices that immigrants had to contend with. Even then, the welcoming culture was not well developed among all Germans. The Italians were insulted as “spaghetti eaters” and “kanaks”, with a view to the world war as “traitors”. It was also said about the guest workers “their knife sits loosely in their pockets”.

Fear of young men from abroad

A recorded original television report from the 1960s comments on the arrivals: “Groups of young men are standing around in the forecourts of train stations, smoking and discussing.” Waller recalls similar prejudices and fears in the refugee wave of 2015, where it was said “that’s all young men who live out their instincts”.

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The film also shows parallels in other respects. Then as now, the economic hardship at home was the decisive reason for many immigrants to migrate. In addition to the plot with strong actors, the filmmakers work with historical film material and contemporary documents. There are impressive black-and-white films of the migrants’ train journey to Germany and color film recordings of the production lines at VW in Wolfsburg, where Beetles were produced in huge assembly halls. In addition, emigrants tell their moving stories – or those of their fathers, whom they never met.

The two theater projects that Waller and Hohmann realized with residents of the Italian village of San Gusmè and professional actors preceded the film, here too Altaras and Morozzi played the leading roles. The docudrama was given its title “Amara terra mia – My bitter country” after the melancholic song of the same name by the Italian bard Domenico Modugno (“Volare”). “Amara terra mia” became the anthem of the emigrated Italians.

After a theatrical performance in Wolfsburg, several spectators approached him and said: “You tell my story,” says Waller, who, however, invented the story about the two sisters. Luigi Cavallo was one of those theater spectators. He now appears in the film himself and tells his story: He only knew his father when he was a little boy, because he left his Italian family for a German woman.

Recruitment for VW went through the Pope

Waller says the topic has always evolved. During the first theater project, he didn’t even know that the recruitment of young workers in Italy at the beginning of the 1960s went through the Catholic Church, because VW director Heinrich Nordhoff apparently had a relationship with Pope Pius XII. was friends. Nordhoff was also able to maintain his good contacts with the Vatican under his successor John XXIII. to use.

That was the deal: the pastors selected people from the Christian trade union in the congregations who they suggested for work in Germany. In a game scene in the film, a cardinal (Gianni Ferreri) says to the VW manager (Peter Franke): “We don’t want to send you communists.” Out of gratitude for the work in Wolfsburg, the young men later donated their salaries to their homeland -Municipalities. And a few years later, the Christian unions suddenly had VW buses. “Payment was apparently made in kind,” comments Waller.

5000 workers lived in Wolfsburg in 38 barracks

As early as 1955, Italian President Alcide de Gasperi had prepared the ground for young Italians from central and southern Italy to go abroad. As a committed European, de Gasperi concluded bilateral agreements on the free movement of workers with France, Germany and Belgium two years before the 1957 Treaty of Rome.

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Cem Ozdemir

Antonio Spinello, the first Italian at VW, began working there as a spot welder in 1961 and was released from work a year later to instruct his compatriots in the barracks of the residential camp and work in the factory. Director Nordhoff, however, instructed his employees not to speak of “barracks” and “camps”, as this aroused false associations so soon after the war. At that time, 5,000 workers lived in three-bed rooms with no possibility of retreat in 38 huts, which the Italians only called “Baraccopoli” (“slum”).

81-year-old Rocco Artale is an honorary citizen of the city of Wolfsburg. He, too, came in the 1960s, worked at VW and, alternating with Spinello and other contemporary witnesses, tells open stories about his life – and thus also the story of the families, the returnees and those who, half jokingly, in their Italian villages today are called “the Germans”. will.

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