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Monicelli is another genius and poet of the Italian cinema. We can only bless him for the long list of masterpieces he created for all of us: I soliti ignoti, Guardie e ladri, L'armata Brancaleone and of course La Grande Guerra. Two cowards, one from Rome (Sordi) the other from Lombardy (Gassman) try to save their lives during one of the most tragic moments (for Italy) of the WWI (the defense on the river Piave). While in some parts the film is truly a blame against the horrors of war, in other parts is somehow patriotic. Even the tragic final changes the protagonists into heroes, but really a strange kind of heroes, very different from the American icon (muscles and bravery). In conclusion, you will find a lot of fun but also thoughtful moments. I beg everyone who read this message to see this movies, it's truly one of the best ever.
I've only seen it twice, and it's already one of my favorite Italian
movies of all time.Directed by legendary Mario Monicelli, this
excellent comedy is set during WWI, when the Italians had to defend the
river Piave from the Austrians.Two of the Italian soldiers happen to be
really lazy cowards:Giovanni Busacca(Vittorio Gassman) from Milan and
Oreste Jacovacci(Alberto Sordi) from Rome.They would rather spend their
time at home with the mates and the ladies instead of fighting for
their country.The only fights they have are with each other, both
insulting the other one with their particular accents and dialects (you
probably have to be Italian yourself to really appreciate most of the
gags). The most interesting thing is perhaps how the two actors handle
their roles: Sordi is very calm, controlled and "normal", while Gassman
just can't stop being nervous, shouting and gesticulating all the time.
Just like La Vita è Bella, this movie's purpose is to blame the horrors of war as well as making you laugh as much as you can.
For those who like Italian cinema, La Grande Guerra is a must-see.
Winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1959, this
film deserves more attention from movie lovers all around the world.
Some critics regard "The Great War" as Monicelli's finest work - and
they might be right. Set in Northern Italy during World War I, of
course the film is definitely antiwar. As Monicelli once said in an
interview : "I wanted to show things as they were -- as usual, badly
conducted and led, and no one wanting to fight, or knowing what they
were fighting for." It is history from the point of view of the humble
people, with a good deal of irony. Starting as a light comedy, "The
Great War" ends on a very poignant note, while it doesn't hide any of
the horrors of trench warfare.
To me, Mario Monicelli and Dino Risi were the masters of Italian (tragi)comedy back in the 50s and 60s. Their best films (like this one) offer a combination of levity, social criticism and black comedy which is extremely appealing and unique. That said, Monicelli and Risi would never have done such great films without great actors. Here, Gassman and Sordi are a wonderful pair as two army mates caught in a conflict they don't really care about. The film also features beauty queen Silvana Mangano in a small but important part as Gassman's love interest.
A classic, unmissable.
La Grande guerra is a real lucid vision of the war that's because the point of view is moved on two characters of the common people with real emotions and feelings, so their military adventures at first creates a sense of funny but step by step everything becomes more dramatic because the war shows absurdities and contradictions that creates real human destruction. The maximum point is touched at the end. Because of this antimilitary soul in 1959 the movie was a real proof of intelligence.
I think this is one of the italian masterpieces of all times, disguised as a "comedy", just because the main characters are the best italian comedians of all times, Sordi and Gasmann. I would call it the "Divina Commedia" of comedy and of deep feelings against war but for the defense of one's country.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
(Includes spoilers!) THE GREAT WAR stands as one of the essential films exemplifying the "commedia all'italiana" genre, that is, films which while being comedies often have a serious, even tragic undertone. Take our two heroes here, the Roman Oreste Jacovacci and the Milanese Giovanni Busacca (Alberto Sordi and Vittorio Gassman). Caught in the insanity of World War I, this Abbott and Costello duo will do anything to escape danger and responsibility. After being fairly successful at the game, they have the misfortune to fall into the hands of the enemy Austrians, who want to pump them for information. But these two connivers and shirkers, in a rush of untapped patriotism, are unwilling to cause the possible deaths of their compatriots and so will chose or allow themselves to die instead. Circumstances turn cowards into heroes, much in the same way the con-artist played by De Sica in IL GENERALE DELLA ROVERE soars to lofty nobility at the end of that film, completed that same year. Talented director Mario Monicelli has filmed a gritty panorama of the World War I, Italy's first real film on the subject, in which the visuals and the overall "feel" are utterly convincing. The great cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno has captured the same period feeling that is akin to old-photographs-come-to-life that we would see later in his 1963 I COMPAGNI (THE ORGANIZER). Here he works in wide-screen CinemaScope that is especially effective in following movements of large numbers of soldiers in the battle scenes. The music by veteran Fellini-composer Nino Rota is appealing, and we get the songs and popular chants of the era. Silvana Mangano provides feminine interest as a crafty prostitute. This is a major Italian film of the 1950's and it should be far better know
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Italians don't have a problem making fun of serious things. Roberto
Benigni got the whole world laughing with a Holocaust movie. Lina
Wertmüller satirized man's will to survive in her WWII dark comedy,
Pasqualino Settebelezze. Mario Monicelli's La Grande Guerra, perhaps
the grandfather of such movies, aims its satire at World War I.
The movie follows Giovanni Busacca and Oreste Jacovacci, two comical anti-heroes who are drafted and spend most of the time trying to find ways to stay out of the front or acquire some rare comforts amidst the war. The movie is mostly plot less and instead emphasizes amusing episodic situations. This gives the movie maximum freedom to explore as many situations as the imagination of the screenwriters allowed.
However this movie never stoops to frivolity. Amidst the horrors of war, there's a strong criticism of war in general and also of the way the soldiers are treated by their own country. Monicelli's camera shows the squalor of the trenches, the hunger, the worn boots and uniforms. The battles are bloody, chaotic situations; when it shows Giovanni and Oreste watching a bombardment in the distance, we share with them the relief we're somewhere else. We rejoice when they think their way out of a dangerous situation and commiserate with them over fallen friends.
And like the best war movies, La Grande Guerra manages to show the best of mankind. Comradeship, selflessness, courage, loyalty are in display here.
La Grande Guerra is over 50 years and yet remains an impressive experience. Modern movies can be technically more authentic, have better sfx, better make-up, have better sound mixing, etc., but $100 millions of budget won't buy them the emotional core of this forgotten movie.
I saw this in Czechoslovakia way back in 1960's and still remember it. I am glad it lists here as a "comedy", it sure is one. That is why it will not be available to us on video of any format in any language under any circumstances. It subverts the "enetertainment' concept. An alternative ? Try Roberto Begnigni, the schlemiel nouveau.
A comedy (or perhaps more accurately a dramedy) about two lazy, cowardly Italian soldiers in the first World War. Sordi and Gassman are both terrific, there's some funny bits and touching commentary, and the film is very well shot with realistic battlefields. It's a sharp, humorous anti-war sentiment. I'm a bit at a loss to explain why I wasn't more taken with it. Maybe it was too scattershot, too episodic. While this does sort of mimic the chaos and randomness of war, I never felt like I could settle into the movie. Some event would start to develop and then be over a few minutes later. Then again, I can think of other movies I enjoy that do something similar (M. HULOT'S HOLIDAY) so maybe that's not it. For whatever reason, I didn't get fully engaged with this film, although I do recognize its assets. One of them being the fantastic, and very appropriate, ending.
When I attended the 61st Venice Film Festival in September 2004, I saw
Italian veteran film-maker Mario Monicelli several times taking a
stroll by himself but, given his reputation for cantankerousness and
irascibility, I thought better not to bother him; you can imagine how
guilty I felt when the 95-year old frail director committed suicide by
jumping out of a Roman hospital window in November 2010! Monicelli, who
does not get a single mention in the "Wonders In The Dark" 3000-strong
list(!), belongs with other notable Italian film directors like Pietro
Germi, Elio Petri, Dino Risi, and Ettore Scola whose work had long been
unjustly overshadowed by the big five, namely Antonioni, De Sica,
Fellini, Rossellini and Visconti.
Best-known for his classic, star-studded caper spoof BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET aka PERSONS UNKNOWN (1958) a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar contender that is still my favourite among his films and, possibly, my favourite comedy not in the English language, period! but THE GREAT WAR (that was equally recognized by the Academy) is probably his masterpiece. Winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival tied with Roberto Rossellini's WWII drama IL GENERALE DELLA ROVERE starring Vittorio De Sica both here over such superior titles as Otto Preminger's ANATOMY OF A MURDER, Kon Ichikawa's CONFLAGRATION and Ingmar Bergman's THE MAGICIAN (both 1958) and at the David di Donatello awards, Italy's own equivalent of the Oscar, it is still underrated enough to have been given a baffling ** rating by "Leonard Maltin's Film Guide" where, incidentally, its running time is given as 118 minutes, rather than the full 137 minutes and the non-English-friendly Italian 2-Disc Set (which, after missing out on it a couple of times on TV over the years, is how I eventually watched it on the centenary of WWI, no less albeit jettisoning the supplements altogether due to time constraints) is still its only home video release worldwide. The film's constant veering between drama and comedy requires some initial adjustment from the viewer but it eventually reaches an exquisite seamlessness. Leading man Vittorio Gassman had been renowned for drama up to his revelation as a comic actor in the aforementioned BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET; conversely, his sparring partner here Alberto Sordi was popular for his own comedy vehicles prior to this; indeed, Sordi would again go to war in two notable subsequent films: Luigi Comencini's similarly bittersweet EVERYBODY GO HOME! (1960) and the more typically comic THE BEST OF ENEMIES (1961; co-starring David Niven). THE GREAT WAR is an impressive Dino De Laurentiis production, notable for distinguished cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno's sinewy tracking shots along the trenches and Mario Garbuglia's award-winning expansive sets. The film also offers a showy role for De Laurentiis's actress wife Silvana Mangano as the proverbial whore with a heart of gold who possibly bears Gassman's child; interestingly, this is just one of several Gassman-Mangano teamings that included the star-making BITTER RICE (1949) and the epics TEMPEST (1958) and BARABBAS (1961). To portray the colourful supporting characters that make up the irrepressible duo's comrades-in-arms, an excellent cast of familiar character actors was dutifully enrolled: Bernard Blier, Romolo Valli, Folco Lulli, Livio Lorenzon, Tiberio Murgia (returning from BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET), Ferruccio Amendola and Gerard Herter.
Considering its significant length, it is understandable that the film follows an episodic structure but is decidedly replete with memorable vignettes: new enlistee Gassman bribing 'veteran' Sordi to avoid joining the Army in the opening scene; Gassman and Murgia's punishment for waking up late in the barracks is to have their hair completely shaved off; Gassman and Sordi asking their chaplain the way to the local brothel and he points them to Mangano's modest but highly popular dwelling; Amendola being constantly hit by the barracks' door whenever it is opened to herald a newly-arrived army bigwig on a morale-boosting tour of the trenches; cultured Valli being pestered by an illiterate private to write love letters to his beloved and read his mail and eventually having to lie to him when the local priest replies that she has married a rich old man; a messenger is killed when delivering a note from HQ that only wished a Happy Christmas to the troops (which causes the much-loved and usually well-behaved Lulli to throw a cup of brandy in his overzealous young superior' face); Murgia is constantly waxing about his love for famous actress Francesca Bertini but, when he does actually receive word from her, he tears up the letter after yet another casualty-ridden assault on their trenches; Gassman and Sordi giving their money, collected for an intended visit to a whorehouse, to Lulli's as-yet-unaware widow whom they chance to meet at the train station subsequently joining a band of soldiers partying there amongst themselves with a minimum of girls to go around; Gassman and Sordi are continually volunteering for missions to shirk trench duties and often save their lives in the process: this stretch of good luck catches up with them at the end when the remote outpost they have ventured to is unknowingly abandoned by their army and they find it occupied by the Austrian enemy when they wake up the following morning; this leads to their heroic death when they refuse to divulge attack plans to Herter, followed by the film's sublimely ironic closing sequence where their long-suffering sergeant Lorenzon complains that these two ne'er-do-wells have once again managed to have it the easy way, cutting to an image of their lifeless bodies, and back again!
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