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Matinee: Jungblut's Pino Lella Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

3 November 2018

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 174th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Jungblut's Pino Lella.

In this short video, German-born photographer Jonas Jungblut, who is now based in Santa Barbara, Calif., tells the story of the day he took World War II spy Pino Lella's portrait.

As a portrait session, the Brooks graduate reveals a simple but persistent approach that did not exhaust his 92-year-old-subject. And for that reason alone, we enjoyed watching Jungblut try this and then that before realizing he had what he wanted and yet trying one or two more things.

But getting to the session was something of an adventure for the photographer who had previously traveled two days to shoot elephants in the Golden Triangle. This time it wasn't just distance and terrain but Lella's daughter and legal issues surrounding an upcoming film starring Tom Holland, famous for his role as Spider-Man.

Still Jungblut persisted and, with the intercession of Lella's wife, managed to arrange a short photo session with the man made famous by Mark Sullivan's Beneath a Scarlet Sky, a fictional retelling of Lella's life.

The short version of Lella's heroics can be found here:

Lella led Jews fleeing Italy through the Alps into Switzerland to freedom. Afterwards, at his parents' pleas for him to avoid combat, he joined the Nazis. Soon, Lella was injured in the field and became the driver for General Hans Leyers, Hitler's left hand man. As Leyers' driver, he worked as a spy for the Resistance and for the Allies, relaying the information he gathered during the work day on a shortwave radio hidden in his family's apartment in Milan. This information included crucial sites for Allied bombing, the extent to which the Nazis were sending Jews and other people to prison camps, like Auschwitz and more. On April 25, 1945, Lella arrested Leyers and handed him over to the Resistance. He did all of this between the ages of seventeen and eighteen.

Sullivan has explained why he resorted to fiction. "So many other characters had died before I heard about Pino Lella, and the Nazis had burned so many documents surrounding his story that even after 10 years of research I had to make informed assumptions in the narrative," he said.

In that interview Sullivan tells more of Lella's story, why he considered himself a coward, how he lost his Anna and how the two men became friends. Of Lella he says:

After spending 11 years with this story, I came to believe that Pino was able to survive all these incredible situations because of his basic decency, his gratitude and his love of life; because of his deep emotional intelligence; and due to his fundamental belief in the miracle of every moment, even the darkest ones and in the promise of a better tomorrow, even when that promise was not warranted.

Lella's story made Jungblut weep as he finished the novel in the Denver airport. He had to meet him, he said.

And to make a portrait of the modest man who saved the lives of strangers while losing those close to him and surviving the evils of his age "because of his basic decency."

Update (3 Nov.): It seems that today's matinee has gone private since we previewed it yesterday and confirmed its availability today. We've emailed Jungblut to see if he'll restore access. Meanwhile, we present a link to this preview of Easy, which could be understood as a metaphor for how we feel about the whole thing.

Update (5 Nov.): We've just heard from Jungblut who explained, "I had to edit this video so there is a new version up." So we have updated the link above to point to the new version.


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