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Richard C. Sarafian
The commander of a failed 1928 Arctic airship expedition is remembering the events of the "Italia" airship flight, crash and subsequent rescue efforts. The "ghosts" of people involved in the events appear in his memories to assist him in determining his guilt in the affair. The reminiscences are mixed with the real action: the flight of the "Italia", the air rescue operation from Kings Bay airfield, the expedition of the "Krassin" ice-breaker. A sort of human touch is added by the ever beautiful C.C. playing Malmgren's girlfriend. Written by
E. Kocourek <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Adventure and Philosophy - Films Don't Get Any Better Than This One
Since viewing this film 35 years ago I have been in awe of it, it is certainly my all-time favorite and would most likely get my nomination for best film ever. On this point I probably stand in splendid isolation (or to quote Finn Malmgren: "emptiness, loneliness, beauty, and purity"). I mention this in the hope that this will encourage readers to view the film. If you are seeking a comparison, "Krasnaya Palatka" ("The Red Tent") is most like the original "Flight of the Phoenix"; both are superficially action adventure films, with deep allegorical elements about the dynamics behind the functioning of a civilized society. "The Red Tent" even gets a little philosophical along the lines of life as a journey and not a destination.
This is Director Mikheil Kalatozishvili's tribute to Sergei Eisenstein, a disorienting yet organized montage of vast scale juxtaposed with claustrophobic confinement (its worth watching again just to focus on the scene transitions-the editing is brilliant). The scenes inside the dirigible and the red tent (the title character) are carefully cut into spectacular exterior shots of arctic landscapes and the dynamic energy of crowds in the Russian countryside and city.
There is a fusion of European expressionism with Hollywood realism in this film unlike anything I have ever seen before. This is possible because of the storytelling device of having everything unfold in flashbacks by the main character General Nobile (Peter Finch). Nobile was the organizer and commander of Italy's ill-fated attempt to reach the North Pole by dirigible. This generally true (certain historical liberties are taken to simplify things) story is told entirely from his point of view.
Forty years after the expedition Nobile is a disgraced figure living in Rome and burdened by guilt and sleeplessness. You learn that on sleepless nights he conjures up participants in the expedition fiasco (both members and rescuers), letting them judge him for his actions 40 years ago. These sessions have been largely inconclusive but this night he pulls out all stops and convenes a full trial in his living room-with almost all the central figures present. More importantly, for the first time he names the ruthless Lundborg (Hardy Kruger) as his prosecutor-a move that Lundborg assures him will mean that the jury will reach a verdict for the first time. These are not ghosts but rather figments of Nobile's imagination and they behave according to his perception of how they would behave.
This storytelling device allows the film to have its own commentary, making it not just an exciting adventure film with wonderful visuals, but an examination of the concept of leadership (much like "Command Decision", "A Gathering of Eagles", and "They Came to Cordura"). More importantly it becomes an allegorical study about free will and destiny, as careful planning and good judgment are just two factors in any complex operation; subject to luck and unforeseen events.
The many characters are a representative cross section of society; with heroes, opportunists, martinets, dreamers, and average Joes. Ultimately, things happen (both good and bad) not because of the challenge of man versus nature, but because of the placement and misplacement of human resources (i.e. the right or wrong person assigned to a particular role in the expedition and the rescue efforts).
From the events portrayed in the "The Rent Tent" it is difficult to fault Nobile as a leader. He wisely turns back to Kings Bay when the weather gets bad, he is genuinely devastated at the loss of some of his men, and his actions after the crash are all reasonable. He can be blamed for allowing Lundborg to bring him out before his men but under the circumstances it was a sensible decision if not a politically correct one. As Samoilovich, Captain of the Russian Icebreaker Krassin points out, a leader is judged by their actions, and their actions by their results, Nobile's early rescue is the reason the other surviving crewmen are ultimately rescued.
Nobile's fantasy trial eventually dredges from his subconscious the realization of why he choose to leave with Lundborg (1000 reasons to stay-1001 to leave). That such a trivial and self-indulgent reason was the difference maker accounts for his continuing guilt. This realization, along with the belief that Amundsen (his peer) is the only one fit to judge him, allows Nobile to finally forgive himself for being human. They go out with Amundsen's advice to reflect not on their failures but on the things they attempted and the wondrous things they saw. There is no guilt in not achieving an ambitious goal, making the attempt is more important than succeeding.
The music is also great.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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