Photo Courtesy of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival.

2023 Toronto Jewish Film Festival: “The Shadow of the Day” Review

Editor’s Note: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the actors and writers involved in the project(s) mentioned here, Pages and Pictures would not exist. Pages and Pictures stands firmly behind WGA and SAG-AFTRA members as they fight for fair labour conditions. 

The Shadow of the Day has an interesting and important premise, yet it doesn’t fully live up to its potential. With engaging characters and poignant stories, this movie could have been so much more. This movie is among the most recent in a troubling trend that puts Jewish characters living through the Holocaust in romantic relationships with their oppressors. It’s a troubling trend that is worth examining. 

The story follows the rise of fascism in Italy through the eyes of a young Jewish woman, Esther (Benedetta Porcaroli), also known as Anna. She takes refuge in a restaurant run by a fascist as Nazis make their way into Italy. Along the way, there are questionable romances, bittersweet reunions, and a pervading sense of danger and dread for what’s to come. 

One of the main problems with this movie is the romance. Perhaps this is a side effect of being so removed from the Holocaust that a lot of stories now feature this trope of fascists “falling in love” with Jews. The reason this is so problematic is because it ignores the fact that real people were being murdered by other real people. This isn’t an abstract concept, and there were no fictional characters in the Holocaust. It’s important to keep this in mind even for stories like this that are fictionalized. 

In The Shadow of the Day, no analysis of how this imbalance of power isn’t really a romance at all. The movie could have explored how this dynamic would have actually played out and how Jews never benefited from trusting fascists, even the “nice” ones. Additionally, there’s no thought paid to the character of Esther and how having her entire past ripped away from her would have any impact on her life.  

The trope of a lost husband returning is not handled particularly well in the context of this story. It feels jarring and unearned. Had the story focused exclusively on Esther and her husband and their eventual reunification, the story may have had more emotional resonance. It’s clear that the main focus was meant to be elsewhere. Having Esther’s husband re-appear at an inopportune time is proof that the main romance of the story is incredibly lacking. 

There is also plenty of opportunity to interrogate Luciano (Riccardo Scamarcio) as a character. His fascism-light can almost be read as an absolution. This is alarming and a missed chance to make a larger point about those who stood by during the horrors of the Holocaust. His character could have been a commentary on how otherwise seemingly normal people had little to no problem embracing fascist ideology.

The Shadow of the Day could have been so much more than what it became. There is so much missed opportunity in this misguided and incomplete story. There are so many characters with a lot of potential. As we get further and further from the Holocaust, this movie is a reminder of why even fictionalized stories need to be told with authenticity.  

The Shadow of the Day was featured at the 2023 Toronto Jewish Film Festival

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