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  • Unrequited Love and Pure Evil: What Can a TV Drama Teach Us about Italian Culture?
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    AUGUST 8, 2004 You can tell a lot about a culture from the television that turns on its people. Every Wednesday during the summer, RAI International is repeating the Italian drama Vento di Ponente, a soap opera that revolves around the Ghiglione and De Caro families as they vie for power in Genoa's rich and competitive shipyard business. Seen in Italy during the spring, this third season offers just the right amount of suspense and high drama. But the show is more than a delicious guilty pleasure; it also says something about Italian beliefs. Here are three themes from Vento that will give you insight into the Italian psyche.

    Bella figura: It Matters What People Think of You
    The concept of bella figura dictates that the way one looks on the outside is indicative of what she is like on the inside. The idea is that appearances matter; in other words, you can judge the book by its cover. Viewers see this theme carried out most frequently through the character Emma Ghiglione, the hardened matriarch of the Ghiglione family and business. In the first season, we learned that Emma drove her daughter to suicide because she had fallen in love with Ernesto, a poor boxing coach who we later learn is granddaughter Francesca's biological father. Up until this point, Francesca had thought that her aunt and uncle (Sofia and Sebastiano) were her parents. Clearly, Emma went to great lengths to keep these secrets, so that the outsiders did not know Francesca's true parentage.

    When Francesca starts falling in love with Marco, a De Caro and therefore arch rival to the Ghiglione family, Emma tells Marco that he and Francesca are actually siblings to keep him away. She strives to keep the vendetta strong, so her family is motivated to work harder and have nothing to do with the De Caros, a family she sees as being a weak enemy.

    The superficial belief that a beautiful outside insures a beautiful inside is carried out in almost every character. They all play their parts well by being dressed in elegant, fine clothing with perfect make up and lots of bling-bling. In fact, the fashion show is half the fun for Vento viewers.

    Love is Suffering
    From the very first season, the show revolved around the forbidden love between Francesca Ghiglione and Marco De Caro. Both are good-hearted kids who are torn between their passionate love for one another and their family obligations. Forces that are greater than they are keep pulling them a part. But their feelings and destiny reunite them for all-to-brief moments that keep viewers on the edge of their seats. You are constantly pulling for them to make it as a couple but deep down you know it's impossible.

    How do you know? The other couples in the show offer proof. Catherine, who marries Marco when he thinks Francesca is his sister, is really in love with some artist named Alessandro who lives in Roma. Sofia, Francesca's biological aunt and adopted mother, had had an affair with Giacomo, Marco's father, when they were young but it couldn't last because of the family's interference. When Sebastiano, Sofia's husband, finally finds true love with his mistress, he gets killed. How's that for a message? Black-hearted characters like Guido and Alberto who work for the Ghiglione family use relationships and sex as doorways to power and manipulation. The chance for true love in Genoa seems hopeless.

    Life's Number One Battle is between Good and Evil
    In the beginning, the De Caro family represented good and the Ghiglione family was pure evil (except for Francesca, of course, because her real father was a kind working man). But as time wears on, both families have stepped into the dark side or carried a little sunshine. Paola, Francesca's usually bitter, jealous and calculating sister, tries to convince her mother not to marry Alberto Cortesi, who is bitter, jealous and calculating himself. You can see that for once Paola is genuine in her desire to protect her mother, and the Ghigliones are on the side of good this time around. On the other hand, Marco makes the mistake of cheating on Catherine with Francesca in season two. For that moment, the De Caro family was a bit tarnished. They are even more so now that Marco's mother, Costanza, is having an affair on Giacomo. Yikes!

    Of course, I hope that the series one day ends with Francesca and Marco living happily ever after despite the Romeo and Juliet foreshadowing. I want to believe that true love will win in the end and justice will be served. But I suppose that wouldn't make for good television.

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