We Weren’t Given Anything for Free

Director: Eric Esser / 58 min. / 2014 / Italian (ST: German, English, Spanish) / Germany

Annita Malavasi was an Italian partisan during the Second World War and one of the few female commanders in the resistance. She spent over a year in the Apennines, fighting against the German occupation. At the same time, she had to assert herself in the male-dominated Italian society.

Script & Director: Eric Esser
Cinematography: Colja Krugmann
Editing: Luca Reale
Production: Eric Esser

Annita Malavasi was just 22 when the Germans occupied Italy, their former allies, in 1943. As a partisan in the Italian resistance named “Laila”, she moved throughout the Apennines with and between fighting units, delivering information, transporting weapons, and taking part in battles. She spent over a year in the Apennines, fighting against the German occupation. At the same time, she had to assert herself against the men of the male-dominated Italian society. By the end of the war, Laila had risen among the ranks to become one of the few female commanders in the Italian resistance.

This film chronicles the story of a lifelong struggle for emancipation that began with the battle for Italy’s liberation from fascism. Laila and her two comrades, Gina “Sonia” Moncigoli and Pierina “Iva” Bonilauri talk about their time in the Resistenza and what it meant to them and many other women.

Unterfeldwebel Annita “Laila” Malavasi, * 21.05.1921; † 27.11.2011
Kommandantin des Nachrichtendienstes der Brigade.

Unterfeldwebel Pierina “Iva” Bonilauri, * 16.05.1918; † 14.09.2011
Vizekommandantin des von Partisan*innen geführten Gefängnisses.

Leutnant Gina “Sonia” Moncigoli, * 01.06.1923; † 06.11.2011
Verantwortliche Versorgung Stadtguerillabrigade 37 in Reggio Emilia.

Buch & Regie: Eric Esser
Kamera: Colja Krugmann
Ton: Colja Krugmann
Montage: Luca Reale
Sound Design: Michael Scheunemann
Mischung: Michael Scheunemann
Farbkorrektur: Colja Krugmann
Schnittassistenz: Rosa Giulio
Dolmetscherin: Heike Herzog
Dramaturgische Beratung: Patrizia Fürst
Produktion: Eric Esser

Eric Esser made his first short film in 2003. Upon completion of his studies in media informatics at Beuth University of Applied Sciences, he worked for the Berlin Social Science Center. In 2005 he began his studies at the Filmarche Berlin, a self-governed film school where he majored in directing and documentary film-making.
He is currently a member of the Filmarche Elders’ Council and engaged in the AG DOK, a working group for documentary film-making. In 2019 he finished his Master’s Degree in documentary film-making at the Konrad Wolf Film University in Potsdam, Germany.

Eric Esser lives and works in Berlin.

2019 The Angel of History (documentary, 10’’)
2018 Rotation (documentary, 71’’)
2014 We Weren’t Given Anything for Free (documentary, 58’’)
2009 / 2013 Chaja & Mimi (documentary, 10’’)
2006 Dawn Of The Dorks (trash, 22’’)
2006 Cevapcici (co-director, documentary, 10’’)
2004 November (trash, 5’’)
2003 Buns (trash, 5’’)

I met Annita Malavasi for the first time in 2004 on the “Sentieri Partigiani” memory walk. It was complete silence while she told her story, everyone listened to her, spellbound. Laila made such a lasting impression on me that I immediately had the idea of making a film about her.

What fascinated me so much about her was her dual struggle – externally against the German occupiers and the Italian fascists, and internally against the patriarchal structures, not just in the mountainous peasant society but within the resistance movement generally.

I also wanted this film to carry on the memory of those who fought against National Socialism. In addition I want my films to pay special attention to stories that have remained largely untold.

“A film that has been bitterly lacking until now.” (Ingrid Strobl)
“emotional and unfiltered” (spielfilm.de)
“close to its protagonists” (junge Welt)
“Director, Eric Esser, has the unfortunately rare gift of being able to listen.” (Filmgazette and konkret)
“A portrait of impressive personalities.” (jungle world)
“A unique and important document of female resistance” (AVIVA-Berlin).
“The legacy of three unusual women” (Zitty)
“There is no better way to bring history up to date” (Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten)
“Impeccable cinematic realisation of the theme” (Festival Jury FMCEX Veracruz)
“a moving and empowering documentary” (Ossietzky)
“One enjoys listening to the intelligent women’s descriptions” (Tip Berlin)
“effective and consistent in its renunciation of cinematic effects” (Telepolis)
“Nothing was given to us emphasises the fundamental importance of women in the liberation movement” (MyMovies.it)

Dietrich Kuhlbrodt in Filmgazette: “Mouth closed, ears open”, 10.07.2017
“Rarely have I seen someone as present as this now almost 90-year-old who, then 23 years old, decided herself to go to the mountains around Reggio Emilia and eventually become commander of the Brigade’s intelligence service.”
“Director Eric Esser (MakeShiftMovies, AG DOK) has the (unfortunately) rare gift of being able to listen. (…) this ability to see himself as a contributor to what he has recorded – and not, I exaggerate, to dispose of it macho-like – is what distinguishes Eric Esser. A sincere, friendly documentary.”

Oliver Dietrich in Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten: “Lifelong struggle for liberation”, 08.05.2015
“If this film tells the story of an emancipation, then it is a lifelong one. Because what began as a liberation struggle against fascism continued as a liberation struggle for individual consciousness. There is no better way to make history relevant to the present.”

Oliver Koch in the jungle world: “Better Films”, 30.04.2015
“Why on earth should one waste one’s time on lousy films like “Big Eyes” by the once visionary star director Tim Burton, when in the dinky cinema around the corner, such an outstanding documentary as “Geschenkt wurde uns nichts” by Eric Esser is being shown?”
“Esser has let his protagonists have their say at length; it is a portrait of striking personalities.”

Simon Zeise in Melodie und Rhythmus 03/2015: “Against historical revisionism”, 30.04.2015

Bianka Piringer on Spielfilm.de, 25.04.2015
“Esser has managed, practically at the last minute, to get a former partisan and two of her comrades in front of the camera. Annita Malavasi, who joined the Resistenza at the age of 22, Gina Moncigoli and Pierina Bonilauri died at an advanced age at the end of 2011. Their narratives, captured here, form a valuable and moving historical document for posterity.”
“Except for a few archive shots, it focuses entirely on Annita Malavasi’s narratives and the visits to the other two women. This gives the film the typical quality of oral history: it is emotional and unfiltered, linking hard facts with personal experience that goes far beyond the limitations of written history.”
“Three former partisans talk about their experiences of the Second World War. Through the main protagonist’s vivid memories and openness, an exciting document of orally transmitted history emerges – created just in time as two of the film’s protagonists have since died.

Tagestipp in der Zitty Berlin, 24.04.2015
“The legacy of three unusual women”

Lars Penning in Tip Berlin, 23.04.2015
http://www.tip-berlin.de/kino-und-film/im-kino-geschenkt-wurde-uns-nichts“One enjoys listening to these intelligent women’s descriptions.”

Roland Zschächner in the jungen Welt: “Never again back to the oven”, 23.04.2015
“Esser’s film is close to its protagonists. He gives them space to tell their stories, to talk to each other, to complement each other. They are role models, both humorous and serious.”

Katja Herzberg in Neues Deutschland: “The Resistenza changed their lives”, 20.04.2015
“There are moments in life that leave their mark on a person for years, maybe even for the whole of their subsequent existence, milestones from which you can never go back from.”

Helga Egetenmeier on AVIVA-Berlin, 13.04.2015
https://aviva-berlin.de/aviva/content_Kultur.php?id=14191378“Chronologically put into the picture, “Laila” speaks clearly and unsparingly at an advanced age about her life decisions, which are captured by the camera in calm images. She then enters into critical dialogue upon meeting “Iva” and “Sonia”, discussing her time in the mountains. Serious yet funny, the three women reflect on their daring decisions that could have cost them their lives.”
“The film lets its protagonists tell the unpolished story of a lifelong struggle for emancipation, beginning with the liberation struggle against fascism; a unique and important document of female resistance.”

Marcus Hammerschmitt on Telepolis: “Klare Ansagen”, 26.12.2014
“You don’t get any Bandiera Rossa romanticism or militancy fetishism delivered.”
“This is effective and consequential in its avoidance of cinematic effects.”
“The fact that this film is thanks to a team from Germany can certainly in itself be seen as an act of reconciliation and international understanding, given the historical events at stake.”
“”Geschenkt wurde uns nichts” should therefore not only be shown at small festivals, but also on television, fand in a really good slot.”

Ingrid Strobl, Blog Nichts ist zu schön um wahr zu sein, 31 July 2014
“Nothing was given to us as a gift,” filmmaker Eric Esser called his documentary about Annita Malavasi, Gina Moncigoli and Pierina Bonilauri – a film that has been bitterly lacking.”
“Annita Malavasi and her former comrades-in-arms have a lot to say. They do so in a very upright, self-confident manner, with a wry humour and with pain in their eyes. These are old women whose courage and commitment to the resistance against the German occupation were never adequately appreciated, not even by their comrades.”
“He has succeeded not only in telling the story of three partisan women and thus giving an insight into the motivations and commitment of many others. He was also able to get the women to speak bluntly about their feelings and personal experiences. In this way, he gives the film a depth beyond hero worship and gives the women a belated, sorely missed tribute to their courage and historical achievement. A wonderful film to which I wish a large audience.”

Marco Chiani in MyMovies.it, 22.03.2014
https://www.mymovies.it/film/2013/nonciestatoregalatoniente/“No received work emphasises more the fundamental importance of women in the liberation movement.”

Jury of the Festival Mundial de Cine Extremo de Veracruz, 25.01.2014
“The reasons given for the choice were as follows: firstly the documentary “Non ci è stato regalato niente” gives a convincing insight into the important role played by patriotic Italian partisan women in Italy during the Second World War, secondly, its impeccable cinematic realisation of that subject.”

11.09.19 13. Festival de Cine de los Derechos Humanos Cine Otro, Valparaiso, Chile
25.05.16 Near Nazareth Festival 2016, Afula, Israel
13.02.16 Boddinale 2016, Berlin, Germany
08.07.15 International Tour Film Festival, Civitavecchia, Italy
06.06.15 Bei Chéz Rainer, Warmeloh, Germany
10.04.15 South Eastern Film Festival, Nashville, United States
29.03.15 Nez International Film Festival, Kolkata, India
22.03.15 Audience Now, New York, United States
27.12.14 Ichill Manila Film Fest, Manila, Philippines
17.12.14 5th Overlook Film Festival, Rome, Italy
17.12.14 Women Director’s International Film Festival, New Delhi, India
11.12.14 5th Manya Human Rights International Film Festival, Kampala, Uganda
26.11.14 International Human Rights & Film Festival, Caracas, Venezuela
24.11.14 14. Filmfest FrauenWelten, Tübingen, Germany
10.11.14 8th Vox Feminae Festival, Zagreb, Croatia
01.11.14 Filmfest Biberach, Biberach, Germany
29.10.14 XI Festival internacional de cine solidario Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, Spain
25.10.14 12th High Falls Film Festival, Rochester, USA
28.09.14 Parallel Crossings, Berlin, Germany
27.09.14 Great Lakes International Film Festival 2014, Erie Pa, USA
05.09.14 Portobello Film Festival, London, UK
17.08.14 Cine Campus 2014, Caguas, Puerto Rico
09.08.14 Los Angeles Diversity Film Festival, Los Angeles, USA
08.08.14 Mpumalanga Short Film Festival, Nelspruit, South Africa
20.05.14 International LGTB and GENDER Film Festival, Buenos Aires, Argentina
01.04.14 Imperfectu – International Film and Gender Studies Festival, Tijuana, Mexico
22.03.14 Sguardi Altrove Film Festival Milan, Italy
13.03.14 FrauenFilmTage 2014, Vienna, Austria
20.01.14 Festival Mundial de Cine Extremo “San Sebastián de Veracruz”, Veracruz, Mexico

30.05.16 “Winner Film” Near Nazareth Film Festival 2016
10.11.15 “Special Mention” at I Filmmaker International Film Festival Marbella 2015
05.03.15 “Gold Award” at Intl. Film Festival “Women – Social Issues Zero Discrimination”
30.12.14 “Silver Award “ at California Film Awards 2014
18.11.14 “Silver Award “ at Filmmakers of the Year Film Festival 2014
07.11.14 “Best Documentary Feature” at the Oregon Film Awards 2014
27.09.14 “Best Documentary Feature” at the Great Lakes International Film Festival 2014
24.09.14 “Gold Award“ International Movie Awards Indonesia
18.06.14 “Honorable Mention 2014” at the International Independent Film Awards 2014
05/2014 “Award of Merit” at the The IndieFest 2014
05/2014 “Award of Merit” at the Accolade Global Film Competition 2014
29.03.14 “Rising Star Award 2014“ at the Canada International Film Festival Vancouver in student film competition category
25.01.14 Main prize of the press at Festival Mundial de Cine Extremo “San Sebastián de Veracruz”, Veracruz, Mexico