The Little World of Don Camillo


Today I was eating lunch by myself and somehow got started watching Don Camillo excerpts on You Tube. I have just finished watching the entire DVD series of Don Camillo films, based on the books by Giovannino Guareschi. They are among my favorite films ever.

The plots are mostly based on the relationship of “frien-emies” Don Camillo, the local priest, and Giuseppe Bottazzi (nicknamed Peppone), the Communist mayor of the town of Brescello in Emilia Romagna during the years after WWII. It helps to know that after Fascism, a lot of Italians had had enough of not only Il Duce, but also the monarchy and priests. Thus they saw Communism as the new hope. I don’t know enough Italian history to comment on all this in detail, but in this series old-fashioned Italian sense of community and decency triumph over politics and revenge.

Why do I like Don Camillo? It’s hard to put it into words. To some American Christians the series might seem insurmountably foreign, even irreverent. Don Camillo is no saint. Like a small boy on the playground, his temper and sense of justice get him into almost daily fisticuffs (but he usually repents). A middle-aged-sounding Jesus talks to him, reprimands him, and at times jokes with him from a large wooden crucifix at the altar of the town church. At one point, Don Camillo loses his temper over a soccer game while talking to Jesus and kicks his hat straight into the confessional. “Goal!” shouts Jesus gleefully.

It might help Americans to see the series as the Italian version of Mayberry (or perhaps as the British think of Herriot’s All Creatures). It has a lot of the same appeal to Italians that Andy Griffith does to Americans. Despite serious ideological differences and even threats of violence, community and brotherly love (however imperfect) emerge as even stronger forces. Don Camillo, despite his cassock, is a man’s man, a former partisan who fought beside Peppone during the War (the real-life Don Camillo survived a concentration camp). He is brave, funny and even lovable under his pugnacious exterior. And finally, the series is very well made, with comedy and more serious elements blended seamlessly and un-self-consciously, often in the same scene.

The clip above, probably one of the more serious scenes of the entire series, is a good example of this blending of humor with courage, and of brotherhood overcoming partisanship.  I also posted it because it seemed appropriate for Good Friday, the river to be blessed is our own Po, and because it’s one of the few YouTube clips I could find with English subtitles.

Buon film!


4 thoughts on “The Little World of Don Camillo

  1. Thanks, I really enjoyed that! Though now I want more, and it sounds like there’s no more to be had for us who aren’t learning Italian.

    Your example has inspired me (and a family friend has shamed me) into learning some Spanish. My dad is fluent, being Mexican-american, but we were raised at a time when the goal was to be 100% american, which meant no Spanish for the kids! He’s 84 now, and though he’s generally in fantastic health he neglected some small issues which turned serious over Christmas and briefly landed him in the hospital.

    So I’ve spent much of the past four months staying with him in El Paso, mostly to provide company since he has a caretaker, Mina, who is much a part of the family as a nurse. Mina and I get along great, but she enjoys teasing me about not knowing Spanish given the circumstances. So I’ve decided to tease her back by learning some!

    I’ve set myself the goal of being able to follow novelas (Mexican soap operas) on Univision, And nicely enough there is a very popular introduction to Spanish in novela format, Destinos. Since it is still used in community colleges new copies of the texts are outrageously expensive (I’m talking hundreds of dollars), but fortunately used copies sell for just a few dollars. So I have those, and I found that someone had put the accompanying cassette tapes (remember language labs?) online as mp3s, so I downloaded all those.

    How are you managing with rolled Rs? I can do the physical action (trill), and I can–awkwardly–pronounce words with a rolled R (though it sounds to me like native speakers do it differently in different words, depending on the surrounding consonants/vowels). But when I try to put the words into sentences my tongue often gets tangled. I’m now wondering whether continued practice will eventually conquer the problem, or maybe I’ll have to settle for an Anglo accent.

  2. Well, Rick, maybe you’re not entirely out of luck, because the DVD set I’ve borrowed has English subtitles. It is an Italian set, but I wonder if it might be possible to order it through Of course, then you’d have to dedicate a computer to Zone 2, or whichever zone European films are in. You can change the zone about five times, at least on our macs.

    And at any rate, if you can succeed with Spanish, you’ll likely understand most of the films anyway! There’s a different accent for sure, and a different feel, and of course different words, but many are close and the grammar is similar. The Italian in Don Camillo is pretty fast, so I can’t follow every word without the subtitles. But I’m going to watch the films over without them.

    Also, interestingly, the actor who plays Don Camillo was actually French, and they dubbed his voice into Italian! You can actually tell now and then if you look closely.

    I can do the rolled R’s okay as long as I’m not self-conscious. It’s more the overall super-enunciation of Italian that is hard for me. One of my problems is that I reflexively pronounce my u’s like you and not like oo. If you want to hear what English accents sound like to Italians, Google Olio and Stanlio. Hilarious!

    Good luck with Spanish! It really is worth knowing another language well. I did notice that your surname was Spanish, but figured it must have been a while back because I’d never heard you mention it.

  3. Just loved that prayer at the end!! Like a little summary of life …as the honest people live in the same homes as the criminals… Lol!

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