It sounds like the perfect family vacation. Three brothers, each in old age, touring the Tuscan countryside, eating and drinking their way through hearty dishes and fine Italian wine.
But at the heart of this picture-perfect road trip lies a more sedate motivation: searching for the cave where the trio hid as children almost 70 years ago to escape the Nazis.
This odyssey is the main thrust of "Shalom Italia," premiering on PBS’ POV series Monday, July 24 at 10 p.m. (check local listings). The feature film will follow the Oscar-nominated short "Joe’s Violin," in which a donated musical instrument forges an improbable friendship between a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor and a 12-year-old Bronx school girl.
Despite the film's sober subject matter, the brothers — Bubi, Andrea and Emmanuel — take us along on an immensely enjoyable journey marked with moving reflections on history, memories and human resiliency. Now all Israelis, the trio reunite in their country of birth to rediscover a painful, yet formative chapter of their lives.
The three are undoubtedly brothers, bickering over everything from pasta recipes to driving routes, but they also challenge each other on fundamental aspects of their stay in the cave. Emmanuel, the oldest, simply recalls misery and only agrees to the journey to make Bubi happy. “Why search for it? I don’t want to remember,” he says.
Meanwhile, Andrea, an athletic physicist just two years younger than Emmanuel, remembers an enchanted childhood: “Those were wonderful times. We lived in the woods, played Robin Hood and collected mushrooms. I had fun during the Holocaust.”
Not just amusing, these conflicting stories make "Shalom Italia" a fascinating reflection on the transmission of history. With the youngest survivors of the Holocaust advancing in age, this film raises compelling questions about how we will continue passing on that generation’s memories.