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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War Requiem (1989) Derek Jarman’s Impressive Interpretation of Benjamin Britten’s Eponymous Requiem

Futility 

Move him into the sun —
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds —
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved, — still warm, — too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
— O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?

 

I have never seen anything like the War Requiem before. Although I used to like Derek Jarman‘s movies (especially Caravaggio, Sebastiane and The Tempest) I wasn’t aware that this existed before I saw a review on the War Movie Blog. This is certainly not for everybody. If you don’t like classical music, especially requiem’s you will have a hard time. I tell you this right away. Jarman took Britten’s War Requiem, which consists of a proper requiem and sung versions of Wilfred Owen’s poems, and illustrated it. Wilfred Owen is the young poet we also see in the movie Regeneration. He was killed in action one week before the end of in WWI. As you can see I added two of his poems for you.

War Requiem is actually a silent movie so to speak. We see images, acted scenes and hear Britten’s music. In part it’s a reenactment of Wilfred Owen’s story, in part we see actual footage of different wars. Documentary and art are entwined and the result is extremely rich and interesting. The acting is of course somewhat exaggerated as the actors are miming not acting as they don’t talk (silent movie style). The two main actors are Nathaniel Parker (Owen) and Tilda Swinton (The Nurse): Sean Bean (The German Soldier) and Laurence Olivier (The old Soldier) are in minor roles. There is a bit with Tilda Swinton who plays the nurse that is very annoying (scene 10). But that was the only bit I found hard to take. The rest is impressive. Beautiful images. Colors are very important and highly overdrawn as they are in all of Jarman’s movies. In this one it is the color red that is artificially bright. Colors have a special meaning in Jarman’s work. He wrote a book, Chroma: A Book of Colors, dedicated to color interpretations and his last movie is dedicated solely to the color Blue. The tragedy behind all this is that Jarman was going blind towards the end of his life. He suffered from AIDS related illnesses and finally succumbed to them.

War Requiem is remarkable also because it is not only an anti-war movie but also an “anti war movie movie”. If you watch all of it and don’t give up in the middle you might be astonished to see what kind of actual footage you see towards the end. I have never seen anything like it before and felt very uncomfortable. The footage we see – especially from Vietnam and Angola – is horrible and gruesome. What is even more horrible is that you see the difference between wounds in a war movie and these head wounds and other wounds in these documentary bits. It simply doesn’t look the same. You see immediately that these people are really dead. I think to see something like this would be good for every person who regularly watches war movies. The atrocities of war are so much more horrible in reality. It was extremely sobering to say the least.

This is a really special movie. It is an interesting contribution to cinema history as well as to war movies  in general. But it is not for everybody.

Anthem for Doomed Youth 

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, —
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

 

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.