El Alamein – The Line of Fire aka El Alamein – La linea del fuoco (2002) An Italian War Movie

El Alamein

Italian movies on WWII are rare, so when I saw El Alamein – The Line of Fire aka  El Alamein La linea del fuoco in a DVD shop I had to buy it right away. Thankfully it was well worth buying as I will certainly watch it again. Sure, the year is still young but I think it’s safe to say that this one will be on my Best of 2013 List. I liked it a great deal.

El Alamein is told from the point of view of philosophy student Serra. Serra has volunteered in 1942 after hearing that the Italian troops were in urgent need of reinforcements. Following the point of view of a young, naive and inexperienced private is common in war movies but in this case it works particularly well as Serra is the philosophical, introspective type. Seeing through his eyes gives the movie a lyrical feel that is underlined through a beautiful score.

Serra expects to see action right away but the Pavia Division, located on the southern line in Egypt, is more like an outpost. Boredom, inertia, heat, hunger, thirst and endless days of waiting for an enemy they cannot see but who bombards them frequently is the daily fare. This allows the men, to get to know each other, to experience the desert fully; its harsh beauty and the dangers it brings.

When they go on reconnaissance they have to fear for their lives as the terrain around the outpost is covered in mines and walking about is dangerous.

The situation is also very absurd. What are they doing there? What are they guarding? Nothing much is happening. I felt reminded of Dino Buzzati’s excellent novel The Tartar Steppe (Il deserto dei tartari).

When the British finally attack, the Italians do not stand a chance. There are twice as many British troops, they are better equipped, better fed, their morale is much higher. The Italians are demoralized for many reasons. The Germans don’t take their ally seriously, they let them do the dirty work. As it was so often the case, the high command of the Italain’s proves to be clueless. In one scene it is shown that while there is no food or water, truckloads of shoe creme are sent through the desert for a parade.

After the attack during which almost the whole of the Pavia and other Divisions died, the troops flee in confusion, not knowing where to go and what will happen next. Serra, Sgt Rizzo and Lt Fiori end up on their own and try to get through the desert with hardly any food or water.

While the first half of this movie is very quiet and takes a lot of time to give us a feel for the situation the Italians faced and to introduce the characters, the second half is action driven.

The funny thing is that while watching this, you soon forget that the Italians were fighting on the wrong side. The characters are so likable and they seem such helpless victims of their government that you can only feel pity.

I liked the many intimate moments, the discussions between the soldiers, the mood, the atmosphere. At times the movie felt like a combination of All Quite on the Western Front and Ice Cold in Alex.

I highly recommend this wonderful movie to anyone interested in war movies and WWII.

I couldn’t find a trailer, let alone with English subtitles, but here’s the full movie – in Italian.

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Some Reflections on Nigerian History and Why I think Tears of the Sun (2003) is Problematic

Tears of the Sun shows a Navy Seal Commander Lieutenant Waters (Bruce Willis) struggle with his conscience. During the outbreak of a war in Nigeria he is sent to rescue an American doctor (Monica Belucci). However the doctor refuses to leave without the villagers who are surely killed if no one cares to bring them to a refugee camp. The question is now, will the callous, hardened Lt help those civilians or will he merely follow orders? His conversion towards an emphatic being is not completely convincing but that is not the main problem.

The action, fighting, emotions are very intense and in so far it is good entertainment for action buffs. My problem starts when this is called a war movie. We should only call a movie a war movie when the action is based on a known conflict. The war that we  are shown in Tears of the Sun did not take place, it is purely fictitious. Furthermore why invent a war? I think this is highly questionable. And why invent a Nigerian war? One film critic, A.O. Scott, even stated that Nigeria was a bad choice since it had been spared such a civil war unlike other surrounding countries. Don´t get me wrong, Scott does not defend this movie, but he only criticised the choice of inventing a war while his misconception of the existence of a Nigerian Civil War shows the core problem. The whole story reveals how very problematic it is to invent wars when even people as well-informed as A.O Scott haven totally forgotten that Nigeria was once the place of one of the most cruel and horrible civil wars, namely the Nigerian-Biafran War. To me it seems as if in inventing such a war we erase the memory of the actual war.

But even if we have forgotten this war, we have not forgotten the pictures of the starving Biafran children.

I just would like to take the opportunity to show some respect for the people who suffered in those wars we may have forgotten.

Should you be interested in reading a novel about the war in Biafra I would recommend Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie´s novel Half of a Yellow Sun or her shorty story with the same name that you can read here  Half of a Yellow Sun Short Story.

What are your thoughts? Do you think it is not problematic to invent a war?

Sometimes in April (2005) Part I

This is Part I of the HBO production Sometimes in April on the war in Rwanda (see Friday’s post) starring Idris Elba and Debra Winger. As I said, I haven’t seen it yet but it looks as if the whole movie has been posted in bits on YouTube. It seems well worth watching.