ROME (AP) — After the latest, horrifying killing of a college student allegedly by her resentful and jealous ex-boyfriend, students from Turin to Palermo have taken to pounding on classroom desks in unison to demand a stop to the slaying of women in Italy at the hands of men.
Just days before the killing of 22-year-old Guilia Cecchettin, Italians were already applauding a blockbuster movie about a woman who endures beatings and belittling by her overbearing husband. The movie is set in 1946, 24 years before divorce became legal in Italy and on the eve of the first time Italian women were allowed to vote. The film’s exploration of the suffocating role of patriarchy in Italian society is painfully resonating today.
The moment is a remarkable confluence of fact and fiction, driving demands across Italy to protect women and to eradicate patriarchal mentalities woven into society.
Giulia Cecchettin disappeared after meeting her former boyfriend, Filippo Turetta, for a burger at a shopping mall, just days before she was to receive her degree in biomedical engineering at the University of Padua.
Her ex-beau, a year younger, friends and family said, resented that she had finished her studies ahead of him and feared she’d move on to pursue personal and professional dreams. Everything was ready to celebrate Cecchettin’s degree — red bows were tied to the metal fence outside her family home in Vigonovo, a town of 10,000 people near Venice — and a restaurant was booked for family and friends.
While at the burger place, she texted her older sister, Elena, for advice on what shoes to buy for the ceremony. It was the last her family would hear from her.
“Giulia’s case shook all of Italy,″ actress and director Paola Cortellesi said in an interview earlier this week in Rome. “Because in her disappearance, all of Italy knew that shortly there would have been the discovery of a young woman slain at the hands of a man.”
“Because by now it’s the same routine. It’s chilling to call it a routine,″ she said, referring to Italian statistics indicating roughly every three days a woman is murdered in the country at the hands of a man — often a spouse, a partner or an ex.
For the seven days before Cecchettin’s body was found, on Nov. 18 — covered by black plastic bags in a ditch near a lake in the foothills of the Alps — the nation’s newscasts gave macabre updates.
A few kilometers (miles) from her home, an industrial complex’s video camera on a deserted street captured the image of a man, alleged by investigators to be Turetta, chasing after Cecchettin who had bolted from the car before being struck repeatedly, knocked to the ground and bundled into the car, leaving hair and bloodstains on the sidewalk.
For days, roadside surveillance cameras recorded glimpses of Turetta’s car, first in northern Italy, then Austria, then Germany. On Sunday, Nov. 19, German police checked on a car parked on a highway shoulder and out of gas. Inside was Turetta.
On Wednesday, a German court ordered his extradition to Italy for investigation of suspicion of murder. A medical examiner’s report noted 26 wounds, apparently inflicted by a blade, on the woman’s neck, arms and legs, Italian media said.
As the real-life drama of Cecchettin’s killing played out, the movie “C’è ancora domani” (There’s still tomorrow) riveted audiences across Italy.
Cortellesi, who directed the movie, said her work swept up audiences “beyond the ordinary, precisely because, as I have been saying, it hit a raw nerve in the lives of everybody.” A noted Italian comic actress, Cortellesi also plays the lead role of Delia, an abused Roman wife hoping for a better future for her teenage daughter.
Cortellesi recounted how, at one screening, a woman stood up and revealed to a theater full of strangers that she, too, had an abusive husband, saying “I was Delia.”
Among the film’s fans is Daria Dicorpo, a middle-school teacher in Rome. “Unfortunately, the theme of violence against women is always actual,” she said.
In the movie, women, from lower to upper classes, are told by their husbands to keep their opinions to themselves, or, more bluntly, to shut their mouth. ”Instead, no, we have to yell, we have to communicate the beauty of being women,” Dicorpo said.
Italians had previously taken to the streets in silent, torchlit marches to protest the slayings of women. But Elena Cecchettin, Giulia’s sister, offered an alternative: “make noise” to honor her sister. “If you have keys, rattle them,” she called out.
In a letter to Corriere della Sera daily, Elena Cecchettin dismissed descriptions of her sister’s alleged murderer as a “monster.” Killers are “not sick, they are the healthy sons of patriarchy,” she wrote.
“Femicide isn’t a crime of passion, it’s a crime of power,” Elena Cecchettin wrote, using a term that refers to the slaying of women precisely because they are women or because of the power men hold over women.
On Wednesday, after final passage of a bill to protect women with such measures as increased use of electronic monitoring devices for men stalking or threatening them, lawmakers from the opposition 5-Star Movement pounded rhythmically on their desks “in a minute of noise.”
Director Cortellesi appealed to the two most powerful women in Italian politics today — far-right Premier Giorgia Meloni and Elly Schlein, who heads the Democratic Party, Parliament’s largest force on the left. She asked them to “do something (about women’s violence) that doesn’t have anything to do with keeping their electorate happy,” she said.
Schlein is pushing for bipartisan legislation to make lessons mandatory, starting in primary grades, to teach reciprocal respect between girls and boys, men and women. But the plan by Meloni’s education minister envisions lessons on “relationships” for high schools.
Italy’s RAI state TV reported that in the days since Cecchettin’s body was found, calls to a national hotline for women fearing for their safety at the hands of men have jumped from some 200 to 400 a day— including from parents of young women.
“Women are afraid,” said Oria Gargano, who heads Be Free, an organization fighting violence, sex trafficking and discrimination.
Among the handwritten notes tucked among the flowers, candles and bouquets left outside the Cecchettin family home was one reading: “Forgive us for not having done enough to change this culture.”
AP journalists Trisha Thomas and Silvia Stellacci contributed to this report.