I love Vittorio De Sica's films of his best period, from the end of World War II to 1952, preeminently The Bicycle Thief and Miracle in Milan…. But I don't like The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. It attempts a serious theme and is neither good art nor good show biz. (pp. 95-6)
The subject of the Jews under Mussolini has never been the main matter of a film, as far as I know; it's an interesting idea and I wish the result had been better. The fundamental flaw is the script.
The story is about the love of a middle-class Jewish youth for the Finzi-Contini daughter and her inability to return anything but sisterly love. So the chief motions of the plot are utterly divorced from the theme. There are plenty of peripheral incidents that deal with growing Fascist oppression, but the plot is simply not an engine of the idea; it's only a time-filler, to plug the gap between the seeming safety of 1938 and the inevitabilities of 1943. The boy-girl story, as such, could have been between Catholics in Brazil.
De Sica has lavishly contributed shortcomings of his own. Nothing that can be sugared is left plain. The camera zooms as if this were the first time he had directed and he couldn's get over his delight with lenses. The colors are like endless boxes of candied fruit. The editing flutters with nervousness, and that weariest of pastoral shots, the camera looking upward as it moves along under trees, is used repeatedly. De Sica is weeping right along with his sad story, and his tears get very much in the way of ours. (p. 96)
Stanley Kauffmann, "'The Garden of the Finzi-Continis'" (originally published in The New Republic, Vol. 166, No. 8, February 19, 1972), in his Living Images: Film Comment and Criticism (reprinted by permission of Brandt & Brandt Literary Agents, Inc.; copyright © 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975 by Stanley Kauffmann), Harper & Row, Publishers, 1975, pp. 95-6.