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In the Fascist Italy Pre-World War II of Benito Mussolini, the cruel General Rodolfo Graziani is directly assigned by Il Duce to fight in the colonial war in Libya to vanquish the Arab nation. However, his troops are frequently defeated by the national leader Omar Mukhtar and his army of Bedouins. But the Butcher of Ethiopia and Libya uses a dirty war against the natives, slaughtering children, women and aged people, to subdue Mukhtar. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Mussolini is talking to Graziani in the opening when he looks the map of Libya, and says that all the green land is for Italy, but this is a topographical map that shows land greener as it becomes lower by sea level. 90% of the area of Libya is desert. See more »
Prelude to WWII. Omar Mukhtar, a brilliant Bedouin leader, wages war against oppressive Italian Fascist forces (led by the bloodthirsty General Graziani) in his native Lybia.
Director Moustapha Akkad (The Message) clearly learnt a few lessons from "Lawrence of Arabia", mainly how best to use the charismatic Anthony Quinn. As Mukhtar, Quinn gives a nuanced portrayal of compassion and wisdom. Whenever he features in a scene, it becomes impossible to tear one's eyes off the screen. Thankfully, Oliver Reed proves a magnificently cruel and seething counterpoint as General Graziani. Irene Papas provides strong supporting work and Rod Steiger turns in a delightful cameo as Benito Musslini.
Moustapha Akkad uses a solid structure and keeps it riveting throughout, extracting fine performances from all his actors and technical collaborators. Where "The Message" was impressive but cold (due to its invisible hero and reverence), "Lion in the Desert" has an emotional core and throws up scene after impressive scene. The desert battle scenes are incredibly messy and savage and have a sense of multiple individual action amid chaos, rather than elaborate choreography. This perfectly suits the theme of Bedouin guerrilla. Production values are considerable and Maurice Jarre provides one of his most underrated scores.
Some viewers will find qualms with the fact that, despite the coda that proclaims that Lybia managed to liberate itself, the country was then for long under the oppressive rule of Kadaffi. In truth, this little addition might have something to do with the fact that Kadaffi assisted in funding the film. If you can overlook this (not to difficult), you can appreciate the true focus: Mukhtar. This remains a beautiful film about a people's resistance.
"Lion in the Desert" is an important film, if only because it offers a very accessible (to Western audiences) Arab perspective. It is also impressively well made: an accomplished chapter in the era of great epics that flourished with David Lean's masterpieces and ended with Richard Attenbourgh's Gandhi.
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