Umberto Barbaro, L’ultima nemica (1938)


L’ultima nemica features the story of Franco Rossi, a young doctor that prefers carrying out medical research instead of a more profitable private practice. Anna, his fiancée, is the daughter of a rich man who does not want her to marry Franco. Once the protagonist discovers a vaccine against Tanzanian fever, he tests it on a prostitute who dies due to its side-effects. Franco feels discouraged Anna has also broken up with him and he decides to quit his research job. Several years later, Franco is in Rome and learns that Anna is infected with Tanzanian fever. He immediately returns to his research and finally develops a cure, saving Anna. Eventually, he decides to remain unmarried in order to commit himself fully to scientific research’.

Main Principles

  1. The ‘arte di Stato’: Modernity and Modernization

  2. The Boundaries of Realism: Constructing Collective Subjectivities


Barbaro’s L’ultima nemica sheds light on Fascist support for cultural and scientific activities against the background of biological racism which characterized the very years in which the film was produced. Franco’s specialism of tropical diseases indirectly refers to the advantages Italy is gaining due to state intervention in culture and science, which can help in ruling the colonies and in instilling an imperial consciousness of the Italian role in the world. The scientific and technological advances the film deals with are thus encompassed in the reconfiguration of the boundaries between subjectivity and objectivity to the extent that Franco’s commitment in finding an antidote to Tanzanian fever is actively backed by the fascist imperial state. The scenes in which a scientific delegation coming from Japan praises Franco’s research epitomize the renewed prestige of Fascist Italy which is finally acknowledged throughout the world. Moreover, the decision to shoot exterior scenes mainly in ‘fascistized’ locations such as the University of Rome and Littoria, one of the New Towns reclaimed from the marshes, is clearly an exaltation of Fascist cultural and social impact in Italy.

The vaccine that Franco is testing is thus a metaphorical device representing the effectiveness of the Fascist revolution: Ida, the prostitute who dies, might be regarded as collateral damage of the Fascist reclamation, an anti-heroine who loses her immodest life for a greater cause. On the other hand, Franco’s former partner Anna regains her health by suggesting that modernity and science, if led by the Fascist state, may cure both bodily and social diseases. The film thus conveys the idea that Fascist modernity promotes a healthy and hygienic arrangement of Italians’ bodies, minds, and society insofar as they are completely devoted to the totalitarian project


Ben-Ghiat, Ruth. 2001. Fascist Modernity. Italy 1922-1945. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Quine, Marie Sophia. 2012. ‘Racial Sterility and Hyperfecundity in Fascist Italy. Biological Politics of Sex and Reproduction.' Fascism. Journal of Comparative Fascist Studies 1: 92-144.

Ricci, Stephen. 2008. Cinema and Fascism: Italian Film and Society. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Gianmarco Mancosu