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I am a bit of a war movie buff. I am also interested in military history, and W.W.I is one of my specialties, since I even got my PhD with a dissertation on W.W.I narratives. I also discussed Emilio Lussu's novel (Un anno sull'altipiano) Rosi's film is based on. Well, sometime when they make a film out of a novel you love, you may get disappointed. I wasn't. In many points Rosi wasn't faithful to the novel, but hey, that's what screenplays must be. The film is gorgeous nonetheless. What makes me rather sad is the horrible fact that there is no DVD version of this authentic masterpiece of world cinema, one of the most intelligent and impressive war films ever. This is a shame for Italy. Low-level Italian B-movies of the 70s have been made into DVDs, but this film hasn't. It's a real shame.
About me, this is a masterpiece of the genre.It is a story about the
brutality of war, telling the terrible events happened in the Italian
during world war I. Here we have General Leone, a cruel high official
without any respect of human life, send his men to the slaughter armed
with guns against the austrian-asburgic machine guns.
He is an imaginary personage, but is probably inspired to the real existed
General Cadorna.He sadly famous for similar behaviors(such as collective
executions of his soldiers for insignificant motivations,like for example
thefts by an unknown),and for this,after an heavy defeat at Caporetto, he
was replaced by much more able and honest General Armando Diaz. All of
represented with heartbreaking realism in this movie, that unlike other
similar, prefer the historic accuracy instead that unrealistic heroism.
I have to signal the excellent photography.
First World War. A more or less forgotten front: in the Italian Alps
and Austrian troops face each other. The Italian general Leone orders his
men to storm the heavily defended Austrian lines without proper artillery
support. They are butchered. Discontent finally leads to a
This is a very dark movie that in a very moving way describes war in its utter absurdity. I consider it a great movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Many Wars Ago" (1970) Dir: Francesco Rosi
The First World War has been the subject of countless works of art in the last ninety years, and with good reason. It's the conflict we remember from our studies as the most needless of all: years of reckless leadership, territorial stalemates and extremely high casualties, all reverberations from a single political assassination in Sarajevo. If ever there was a true story that could be used to illustrate the horrors of war and the societal implications of diplomatic one-upmanship, the Great War was it. It was a conflict without ideologies, where millions died simply because they felt obliged to represent their country. With this film, Francesco Rosi addresses the fundamental foolishness of blind obedience in the bluntest way he can. We are not shown the characters' civilian lives, nor are we privy to their hopes and dreams. There is very little psychology explored either, and no moments of empathy for the enemy. "Many Wars Ago" is almost devoid of humanity; the soldiers we follow simply trudge onwards, advancing and retreating, abandoning vantage points only to reclaim them the next day. In this way, it is a pure war movie because it excludes all but the faltering military machines and the devastation they cause across forgotten fronts.
The film focuses on the futile actions of an Italian division in the Balkans. There are many slow shots of the dirtied infantry marching onward into the mist, then we cut to an Austrian ambush or an Italian offensive at varying times of day. Some are over hills, some in the forests. General Leone is in charge and seems eerily invincible as well as violently mad. His patriotism is the only excuse necessary for putting thousands of men in unnecessary danger (even in the context of a difficult open combat situation), and sending many to their deaths for cowardice, insubordination or mere clumsiness. Two lieutenants are the closest the audience will get to traditional protagonists, and they are compellingly played as downtrodden and pragmatic. They are never passionate because the war has sucked it out of them, they only try to make the best of Leone's wild commands and save as many lives as possible.
There is rarely respite in the bleak delivery of this material. It makes war seem utterly wretched and that's exactly what it's supposed to, for which Rosi should be commended. It is a serious war movie free of sentimentalism and cliché, although it may be too clinical for some viewers. In the eyes of Lieutenants Ottolenghi and Sassu we can see a back story that most directors would be happy to include if only in a monologue or a brief, stilted conversation, but not here. Rosi gives us nothing in the way of emotional reference points - these soldiers are young but weathered, and we can only guess at what made them this way.
Two especially decent scenes should be mentioned: one in which we see the soldiers showing Leiutenant Sassu that the Austrian snipers have their guns aimed precisely to fire through a tiny metal shutter in the Italian defensive wall, and another at the end of the movie where Leone discovers that Sassu has fought in all of his conflicts without being wounded. Both of these scenes cleverly exemplify the edgy, near-mutinous condition of the ailing Italian forces at this point in the war. They are debilitated and disillusioned, the pointlessness of it all is staring them in the face, and the audience has no idea how their movements affect the bigger picture of the Balkan front, or the rest of the war, at all. This may be the film's most skilfully communicated concept - there is no sense of scale, no back story, only mountains and cavalry and suicidal charges and endless mist, mutiny and strafing gunfire. That's why this is one of the darkest Great War movies ever made. Rosi tells us that his beginning is not a beginning, that his end is not an end, and that the machine of war pushes onward through the ever-developing chaos.
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