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Brunetto Del Vita,
"There are five reasons for drinking: a friend's arrival, the excellence of the wine, present and future thirst, and whatever else you care to add". Ermanno Olmi has returned to documentary... See full summary »
The title of Ermanno Olmi's 2012 film Torneranno i Prati (Greenery will bloom again) suggests a somewhat optimistic view of the horrors of war in general, but there seems to be little grounds for such optimism in the specifics of the film's account of the fate of a group of soldiers on the Alpine North-Eastern front during the winter of 1917. Inspired by the story La Paura (1921) by Federico De Roberto, and a personal reflection of his father's experiences during the First World War, perhaps Olmi's outlook is just a more realistic one - greenery will indeed bloom again after the wars have ended, but the healing is also presumably just a stage in the endless cycle of war.
In a remote outpost, in the depths of winter, a small company of Italian soldiers are entrenched on the North-Easter front, beaten down by the constant Austrian bombardments. Half of the troops are suffering from a fever brought by a flu epidemic, and only the strongest can survive it. With little comprehension of the reality of their position, an order comes in from the high commmand to create a new outpost, since the communications with the existing base have been compromised.
It's a suicide mission. The first volunteer doesn't get more than a few yards before the terrifying report of a sniper rifle rings out. The second does actually shoot himself rather than go out, while the Captain of the unit, wracked by the fever, has no choice but to surrender his rank. It's a grim situation depicted with true horror for the conditions and the prospects of the men out there. But the film, as the title hints, is not without its shoots of greenery, the men taking what little comfort they can from little glimpses of nature around them - a mouse, a fox, a larch tree. Even these however are not immune from the horrors of war.
The beauty of the cinematography - crisp tinted black-and white, with desaturated hand-colouration effects - doesn't prettify the subject as much as emphasise the horror of war in such a place, where for all its apparent beauty, nature can also be just as harsh and cruel. The passing of time and the seasons can also bring about healing, but have a cruel side. Life will continue on, the greenery will bloom again, and no-one will remember what once happened in this place. Until the cycle brings it around once again.
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