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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>
A lost classic that is as much a chilling piece of survival grit as it is a probing examination of guilt and memory
atching THE RED TENT gave me that rare fulfillment and dramatic wholesomeness one can only get from a stonecold classic, a CITIZEN KANE or a ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. Granted it doesn't compare to these or other heavily praised list toppers and film behemoths, mainly due to questions of style and cinematic pioneering (or lack thereof as the case may be), it still deserves more than the meagre 500 votes and 6.6. rating it has here.
As far as I can tell the story is faithful to the real events that transpired in 1928 during and after General Nobile's first attempted expedition to the North Pole by air. His airship (zeppelin), 'Italia', was forced to abandon its mission due to forbidding weather conditions and return home. On the way back it was shipwrecked on the ice somewhere 100 miles away from its base at Kingsbay island and the handful of survivors that weren't blown away with the keel were forced to carve a meagre, frostbitten existence as they waited for rescue parties. Three years earlier famous polar explorer Roal Amundsen had flown over the Pole using another of Nobile's airships, the 'Norge', and it was the subsequent fight for who deserved the most credit (engineer, explorer or airship pilot) that led to Nobile's fateful expedition with 'Italia'. The amount of bad luck involved in that expedition, the one month the survivors huddled together in the freezing arctic wasteland waiting for rescue, and the mishaps that plagued rescue parties, in both air and sea, is staggering to think. To watch it all unravel in 2 hours makes for a haunting experience.
You don't need to trawl Wikipedia for info on the events before sitting down to watch the movie. The first few minutes consist of very tastefully done 'period' footage of Nobile's expeditions, as the aged general watches newsreels of the events on a TV. After all these years Nobile (Peter Finch) is still plagued by guilt, slowly eroding his soul with questions he can't possibly answer. But the dead can and it's their authority to judge him. And so Nobile invokes them in his living room, figments of his guilt-crazed imagination, the dead imperative personified as nemesis divina. People that died and people that survived are summoned by and in Nobile's mind to absolve or condemn him for his actions. The old general coping with his guilt and from these discussions the bulk of the story unfolds in the form of long flashbacks.
Needless to say that if you have even a remote interest in polar explorations (or any kind of explorations really, as all of them, from the old west to the moon, are but retreads on the same path) and generally survival adventures on harsh environments, this is a must see. Unlike Scott's fateful expedition in the South Pole however, the tragic end here remains internalized, mostly taking place inside Nobile's soul as he finds himself unjustly branded a coward and deserter upon his return. But the stark nature of the windblasted arctic landscape and the men trying beyond all hope to survive in it offers its fair share of physical bleakness.
This Italorussian co-production spared no corners in the budget. This is a lavish production with hundreds of extras, an icebreaker ship tearing through the ice and some truly breathtaking photography shot on location (or some location that passes for the North Pole at least, Siberia must be full of 'em). With an international cast that includes Peter Finch (capturing the anguish and despair at the heart of the protagonist without resorting to the overbearing histrionics that earned him the Oscar in '77 over DeNiro's Travis Bickle), Claudia Cardinale (without doubt the most astonishingly beautiful woman on the planet in the late 60's), Sean Connery (in a small role as Roald Amundsen) and Mario Adorf (familiar face from many Italian b-movies), a rousing score by maestro Ennio Morricone, and sturdy direction by Mikhail Kalatozov (five years after I AM CUBA), this really is a lost classic any way you slice it up and just a great f-cking movie.
As much a poignant character study on guilt and memory (Nobile needs only his own forgiveness in the end and it's his memory that punishes him a thousand times for things out of his control), as it is a stark piece of survival grit, THE RED TENT deserves a larger audience. You be it.
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