The Catholic School is a film adaptation – realized by director Stefano Modini, of the homonymous novel written by Edoardo Albinati, the winner of Pulitzer Prime in 2016. The film tells the events that preceded the Circeo massacre, a chronicle fact happened In the Italian COMUNE of San Felice Circeo between the 29th and the 30th of September 1975, that involved two friends, Rosaria Lopez, lured with deception by Gianni Guido, Angelo Izzo and Andrea Ghira in a house outside Rome on the pretext of a party. Here the young women were raped many times and tortured until the death of one of them, Rosaria.
The film immediately expresses the intention to faithfully report the facts related to the story as they have followed, however, the director invites the spectator to reflect also on those “contour elements” that permit us to have a wider and more complete view of the factors that have helped to the accomplishment of the crime.
From the very first scenes, the spectator is immersed into the culture of the ’70s Italy and, little by little, you can become familiar with the ideology that pervades the society of the time, that is, based on a hierarchical system, built through overpowering and radical use of violence, often hidden by the home walls or the respectful facade of religious institutions. Therefore, what is immediately evident is the entrenchment of an elitist system, which facilities bourgeois classes, built through force and corruption that allows the justification of violent and immoral acts.
In addition, the film gives space to the description of three contexts in particular: the educational one, a Catholic male institute; the family one, where we can see the father who exercises his authority over his wife and children; and the social one, that is, of a society that reflected the recent riots of 1968 and, more than any other, was characterized by the social, political and sexual avant-garde that provoked simultaneously disruption and novelties, seen by some with enthusiasm, by others as a threat. The same Albinati in his book will say “…female emancipation, which I consider the most lasting political phenomenon, has generated signs of violence and unmanageability that have been manifested with cruel events”.
So, it is actually the description of these contexts that allows the spectator to pick the weight that a patriarchal and sexist mentality plays in the training of young boys, who see the woman as an object to be used and then to be thrown away. “They were pieces of meat and pieces of meat remained”, so Andrea Ghira describes the bodies of Rosaria and Donatella while they are locked in the trunk.
However, another element is essential to fully understand the influences behind the behaviour of young people, which in part have caused them. In fact, it is actually in the exasperated machismo, which is now called “culture of rape” that we can trace the deep causes of the violence inflicted to Rosaria Lopez and Donatella Cola Santi in 1975. “What had happened was about all of us, we had to constantly try to be real men, and then start again from the start and prove it once again”.
Finally, a last point of reflection that the film leaves us and that I would like to underline is about the law that rules the crimes of sexual violence. Before the current Penal Code there was the Rocco Code and, in 1975, the crimes of sexual violence and incest were still part of “The crimes against public morality and common decency” and “Crimes against family moral”. So that, it was thought that sexual violence did not offend the victim of the crime but affected a general public morality. This showed that the good that they had tried to protect and preserved was not the person herself, but the social morality, according to which, the woman was not free to have any liberty in the sexual field. And it is precisely from these conditions that the trial of the perpetrators of the Circeo massacre was an example of victim blaming (a tendency to blame a victim compared to what he suffered and to make her think that they were the cause of what happened). “If the girls had remained by the hearth, where was their place, if they had not gone out at night, if they had not agreed to go to the home of those boys, nothing would have happened,” said Angelo Palmieri, the defense lawyer of one of the killers during a hearing, in a plea with which he seemed he wanted to shift the blame from the perpetrator to the victim. However, Donatella managed to use the defense of Tina Lago Stena Bassi, an esteemed lawyer and feminist, and, from that process, the Italian feminist movement began to strengthen. All the hearings were attended by women’s rights activists and, despite the prejudices manifested by lawyers and media, at the end the jury sentenced the three young men to life sentence.
This tragic event has been a sad example of how a patriarchal and macho society and a toxic conception of masculinity have been essential factors in the structuring of a sexist society, which has given to privileged young men the illusion that they are able to make out atrocious acts without worrying about the consequences, as they are protected by their condition and without moral reservations. But, above all, this fact has helped to raise public awareness and to denounce the urgency of a change that is oriented to the recognition of greater safeguards.
In February 1996 Law no.66 was passed, which places rape in the category of “Crimes against the person” (precisely, those against personal freedom), emphasizing the offensive type of conducts punished against the legal good of sexual freedom and no more than those of morality and common decency, and today is governed by art. 609-bis and following of the Penal Code.
In conclusion, re-proposing past chronical events through film adaptations, books and journalistic investigations, should be an opportunity for us to stop and reflect on how, today, we can assist to the concrete change of our society, witnessed by an increasing awareness of these issues. Events such as the Circus Massacre have shaken public opinion, and this has allowed women to be more and more freed from that overwhelming condition imposed by a society that today we consider increasingly distant from us and from which we can keep the distance without forgetting the events and conditions that have preceded us.
Written by Selene Amonini
Translation by Lisa Nespoli