Review

'My Italian Secret' honors unsung heroes who saved Jews in WWII

'My Italian Secret' honors heroic efforts of champion cyclist Gino Bartali and others to save Jews in WWII

Back in 1938, Italian sports idols didn't get much bigger than Gino Bartali, the champion cyclist who had just won the Tour de France.

Although Bartali never made a secret of his anti-Fascist sentiments, there was something he kept hidden from even family members — saving the lives of hundreds of Jews in Nazi-occupied Italy.

Bartali's quietly courageous deeds — he'd routinely courier falsified documents hidden in the frame of his bicycle — as well as those of his compatriots are revealed in the compelling if unsuitably titled documentary "My Italian Secret."

Get past what sounds like a melodrama about a forbidden love affair, and director Oren Jacoby's carefully crafted film deftly blends archival footage with dramatic re-creations and interviews with surviving family members to illuminating effect.

As Bartali used his long-distance cycling workouts as a cover for his clandestine activities, there were also priests, nuns and doctors (one of whom invented a contagious disease to scare Nazi officers away from the hospital where he was hiding Jews and other refugees) who selflessly risked their own lives.

While warmly narrated by Isabella Rossellini, the film also sees fit to incorporate Bartali's own words, distractingly delivered in English by actor Robert Loggia.

In honoring a man whose credo was "do good, but don't talk about it," it would have been more effective to simply let his heroic actions speak for themselves.

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"My Italian Secret"

MPAA rating: None.

Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.

Playing: At Laemmle's NoHo 7, North Hollywood.

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