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Most folks don't know that the Italians had over 80,000 troops in Russia during WWII, and fewer know that most of them died or were captured during the retreat in the dead of winter from Stalingrad.
This movie does an excellent job of showing the life of an (any) average soldier in any army- the grunts, the footsloggers, the cannon fodder. The few officers shown (the exception being the colonel in charge of the unit) are far from heroic, being either cowards or incompetents.
Shot in stark black and white, this movie personalizes war in a way that hagiography's such as "Patton" or extravaganza's like "The Longest Day" absolutely failed to do. If anything, this is like a (much) shorter version of "A Band Of Brothers"- it is that good.
As stated by other commentators, nothing good happens to anyone in this movie- it is real-life film noir. Good, bad, indifferent, everybody suffers. This is what a war movie made by, if not Jules Dassin or Robert Siodmak, than Richard Fleischner or Felix Feist would look like.
It is not all gloom and doom however. The scenes which take place during the advance through the Ukraine in the spring and summer are light, and reveal the soldiers attitude of "What are we doing here?" and contrasts them well with the occasional appearance of a Nazi official or an officer of the Wehrmacht.
For those interested, read "Few Returned" by Eugenio Corti, an Italien officer who was one of the few to escape the destruction of the Italian Expeditionary Force on the steppes of Russia, and for an Italian's view of their erstwhile "ally", I recommend "Kaput" by Curzio Malaparte, an Italian journalist who witnessed at first hand the savagery of the Nazi occupation in Poland and points east.
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