Liliana Cavani's Galileo is an Italian-Bulgarian co-production. The film, which lasts 108 minutes, was entirely financed by Cineriz with a small contribution from the RAI, which had planned to show it on television, but never did so. Making its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in 1968, it aroused great interest, especially for the topicality of the subject and the ensuing debate among critics and the public. It received excellent reviews from the Italian press.
The plot follows Galileo - played by Cyril Cusack - from his years in Padua up to the trial, concluding with his abjuration of the Copernican thesis before the ecclesiastical authorities. The film, strongly opposed by some Catholic circles (on parish houses it was labelled "for adults with reserve"), is closely linked to the historical period in which it was shot.
In a note to the newspapers of the time, Cavani explained, "I find it highly topical to speak of Galileo. In 1964, at the Council, it was said, albeit by progressives alone, 'We may deplore certain moral attitudes deriving from having insufficiently recognized the legitimate independence of science, which have led many spirits to believe that science and faith are mutually opposed.' The Church was mistrustful of science in the past, and is still so today, to a large extent. Science means physics, economy, sociology, anthropology and ethnology, disciplines that have advanced knowledge enormously. The Church should have progressed very far in step with them, but instead we still see sordid struggles between the so-called tutors of authority and all those Christians who 'protest'. Because in the last analysis, today as yesterday, what they want to defend is not the spirit of the revealed Word, but the authority of the ecclesiastical institution.
As regards respect for the historical Galileo, Cavani continues: "My film attempts only to narrate the spirit of a struggle - the clash between the man of culture, who has now understood the right to freedom of investigation, and authority - an authority that calls itself religious and should as such be founded on the spirit, but that acts instead as an institution believing only in its own foundations". And again: "When today's world is spoken of with all the pessimism of the irritated preachers, we should react and understand that the evils of today spring from having lost the habit of thinking for ourselves, of trying to understand the words we pronounce, having refused to assume individual responsibility for social facts, and having delegated to a shadowy 'Providence' the abolition of all injustice (such as hunger, inequality, abuse, violence, intolerance and ignorance). This is education. Galileo was punished because he dared to question the dictates of the Church."