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Vittorio De Sica
As his first assignment, lieutenant Drogo is sent to an isolated fortress on the borders of a desert and of a range of high mountains. The mission of the garrison is to prevent a possible incursion by the fearsome Tartars, coming from beyond the desert. Some fellow officers are eagerly awaiting an attack; some no longer want to believe in it; others take advantage of the vague threat to further their career. All of them are sacrificing everything -- health, youth, friends, family -- for a distant military ideal: leading the defence against the onslaught of the enemy. But in the vast emptiness surrounding the fortress, nobody has ever sighted the Tartars... Written by
Eduardo Casais <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A profoundly important if not exactly 'great' film
The fact that this film ever got made is a marvel. Some of the biggest stars of European cinema got together with Zurlini to make this one-of-a-kind film about boredom and existential despair. The profound emptiness lurking within every man as he tries to cope with an absurd existence and which always looks for an escape through some distraction or mindlessness (such as war, pointless work, perversion, etc.)rather than face the frightful prospect of coming to terms with itself IS the subject of this film and NO COMPROMISE WHATSOEVER is made to please the audience.
The pace of the film is slow and methodical, deliberately making the audience become as bored and uncomfortable as the protagonists. However, if you know this or sense it, you are no longer bored but aware of the film's intentions and fascinated. When the finale comes to bring together all that went before, the understaed effect is overwhelming. One shot in particular, that of the Tartars suddenly appearing over the hills way out in the distance is so fantastic that it becomes etched in your mind forever. The story is about a military officer (Jacques Perrin) sent to a fort somewhere in the middle of a god-for-saken desert where the endless similarity of the days nearly drive him nuts to the point where he comes to hope for a war or attack of some kind to change things. He's hoping for anything that'll distract him from feeling the emptiness inside and can't find it. The plot is the laboratory experiment by which Zurlini expounds his view of the eternal isolation of man from man and the essential absurdity of existence. Some of the most bizzarely fascinating location photography is featured but the tone of the film is intentionally 'dry' and 'non-poetic' (unlike the very poetic way his previous film "The Professor" starring Alain Delon was made, for instance)and most of the stars (except for Von Sydow and Trintignant) have relatively small roles. Trintignant is pretty hilarious in his role as the fort's doctor.
Overall, "Desert of the Tartars" is a not-too-successful (its impact is nowhere near the level achieved by Antonioni's "The Passenger", for instance) but still thoroughly fascinating experiment in uncompromising dramatic cinema.
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