Largely ignored by scholarship and increasingly occluded in historical memory, Tombolo was once so central to Italian culture and politics that even allusive references to the term could conjure the doubt, anxiety, and indignation of the Second World War war and its aftermath. A pine grove located between Pisa and Livorno, Tombolo housed a large American encampment, a key staging site for the Allied invasion and subsequent occupation of Italy. It was also the site of a flourishing black market, rampant prostitution, and racial tensions, which combined to give it an outsized role in the Italian imagination. Indeed, a mix of prurience and prejudice made Tombolo a kind of Italian obsession after the war. It was the subject of lurid tales of white slavery, murder, kidnapping, money laundering, and thefts totaling billions of lire. In numerous journalistic exposés, short stories, novels, and films, Tombolo was the contact zone for a cultural confrontation with the transgressions of the war. Then it was largely—but never entirely—forgotten. In this lecture, Leavitt examines the simultaneous evocation and suppression of Tombolo in Luigi Zampa’s 1949 film Campane a martello. That film, he argues, is symptomatic of the effort both to process and to repress the complex history and memory of the Allied occupation, an effort whose evident failure continues to destabilize Italian national identity.
Charles L. Leavitt IV is Assistant Professor of Italian at the University of Notre Dame. He studies modern Italian literature and cinema in a comparative context. Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Reading and co-editor of The Italianist Film Issue, Leavitt is currently completing a monograph on Italian Neorealism while also continuing to pursue research on a variety of topics, and in particular on the intersections between Italian and African-American culture. His work has appeared in publications including Modern Language Notes, Italian Culture, the Journal of Modern Italian Studies, California Italian Studies, Tre Corone, and The Italianist.
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Originally published at italianstudies.nd.edu.