The Italian protest song “Bella Ciao” is the musical centerpiece of Netflix’s Money Heist. Here’s where the song originated, and what it means.
Warning: SPOILERS ahead for Money Heist season 1 and 2.
In Netflix‘s gripping Spanish crime series Money Heist, the central gang of daring robbers sing the Italian song “Bella Ciao” to embolden themselves for the heist, and to celebrate victories. The song embodies the show’s theme of resistance, but its lyrics also serve as an omen of death – which the gang have encountered several times throughout their two major heists.
There are actually two versions of the lyrics for “Bella Ciao.” The song originated among the women who worked Italy’s rice paddy fields in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. A field worker was called a mondina, and the mondina version of “Bella Ciao” is a lament about the back-breaking labor, terrible conditions and low pay that the mondine suffered through. The original lyrics bemoan biting insects, a boss wielding a cane, and the loss of youth.
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This may sound like it’s a world away from Money Heist, in which the robbers plan to print their own money and live a life of work-free luxury. But the mondine version of “Bella Ciao” wasn’t just a complaint about hard work; it was a protest song that came to define the mondina women’s rebellion against their conditions. The final lines of the song voice a hope to one day work in freedom, and it was that spirit of resistance that carried through to the version heard in Money Heist.
What The “Bella Ciao” Lyrics Mean In English
The first time the gang sing “Bella Ciao” in Money Heist season 1, it’s a moment of victory after Moscow hits soil when digging a tunnel through a vault in the Royal Mint. Though it seems like a joyful scene, Spanish speakers may pick up on the darkness in the song’s lyrics. The version of “Bella Ciao” sung by the Italian anti-fascist partisans in World War II (and by the gang in Money Heist) is actually an acceptance of impending death. “Bella Ciao” means “Goodbye, beautiful” in English, and the rest of the lyrics outline the reason for this goodbye.
One morning I awakened
and I found the invader.
Oh partisan carry me away
Because I feel death approaching.
And if I die as a partisan
then you must bury me.
Bury me up in the mountain
under the shade of a beautiful flower.
And all those who shall pass,
will tell me “what a beautiful flower.”
This is the flower of the partisan,
who died for freedom.
Though “Bella Ciao” is used to mark the happiest moment of the Royal Mint heist, it’s also used to foreshadow death. The Professor (Álvaro Morte) and Berlin (Pedro Alonso) sing it together in a flashback in season 1’s finale, after Oslo (Roberto Garcia) has been hit over the head and left terminally brain-damaged. He dies in the following episode, when Helsinki decides to quietly put him out of his suffering rather than risk leaving him to the mercy of the police. The song is heard again in the Money Heist season 2 finale, when Berlin sacrifices his own life in a hail of police gunfire in order to buy the others enough time to escape. As fun as “Bella Ciao” might be to sing, it’s not necessarily a sign of good times to come.
Why The Money Heist Gang Sing “Bella Ciao”
The significance behind “Bella Ciao” is revealed in Money Heist‘s season 1 finale, during a flashback where Berlin tells the Professor to escape and save himself if the gang doesn’t make it out of the Royal Mint. When Berlin asks him to make a promise, the Professor deflects by telling him that nothing will go wrong, adding, “We’re the resistance, right?” As he begins to sing “Bella Ciao,” Tokyo (Úrsula Corberó) explains in voiceover that the Professor’s grandfather fought with the partisans during World War II, and that he had taught it to the young Professor, who in turn taught it to the gang. For the Professor, the song symbolizes the central idea of his life: resistance. It’s quite in character for the Professor to embrace the ideals of resistance and freedom in “Bella Ciao,” while also blinding himself to the fact that it’s a song about death.
The goal of the Professor and the gang in Money Heist isn’t as simple as getting rich – or at least, not for the Professor. He designs the Royal Mint heist in such a way that the robbers will be printing their own money rather than stealing anyone else’s. Speaking to the police, he justifies their action thusly:
“In 2011, the European Central Bank made €171bn out of nowhere. Just like we’re doing. Only bigger. Do you know where all that money went? To the banks. Directly from the factory to the pockets of the rich. Did anyone call the European Central Bank a thief? No. ‘Liquidity injections,’ they called it. I’m making a liquidity injection, but not for the banks. I’m making it here, in the real economy.”
Just as “Bella Ciao” transformed from a protest song for rice paddy workers into a song of resistance for anti-fascist partisans, it has since been used as a cry of resistance in many other forms. In Money Heist, it’s a cry of resistance against a capitalist system that bailed out the banks following the financial crisis of 2007-2008, while a generation of people were left struggling. It’s little wonder that, in between Money Heist seasons 2 and 3, “Bella Ciao” renewed its popularity as an anthem of resistance around the world – not only in the show, but in real life as well.
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