Sunday, December 29, 2013

Day 5: El Alamein - The Line of Fire (2002)

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  5 bronzed Italians
             “El Alamein – The Line of Fire” is an Italian war movie set in North Africa at the start of the Battle of El Alamein.  It was released in 2002.  It follows five Italian soldiers from the Pavia Division.

                In October, 1942 a newbie named Serra (Paolo Briguglia) arrives at the front.  He’s a college boy who has dropped out to do his duty (ala Taylor in “Platoon”).  His guide is disintegrated by an artillery shell.  Too soon with the “war is hell” theme!  The depressed men are appropriately living in trenches near the Qattara Depression.  Serra is informed that the two biggest problems are thirst and dysentery.  Sgt. Rizzo (Pierfrancesco Favino) becomes his mentor and tells him every soldier gets three miracles and then fate comes knocking.  Some of those miracles come from surviving the random, intense, and amazingly accurate British bombardments.

                The central core of the movie is a series of vignettes that include going in minefield to loot a British truck, sparing the life of Mussolini’s horse, frolicking at a beach, and a mortar versus sniper duel.  You know, the usual war movie stuff.  This leads up to the big set piece which has the unit defending a sector of the front against the British onslaught.  They are given amphetamines to keep awake.  This is the first time I have seen reference to this WWII practice.  The assault occurs at night so the British tanks have their headlights on.  Did British tanks use headlights?  The combat is visceral with slo-mo, of course.  Although the British break through, when dawn breaks the Italians have held the position.  Without researching yet, I will call a foul on this.  From” last stand” the film transitions to “lost patrol” as Serra, Rizzo, and Lt. Fiore wander through the desert.

                “El Alamein” is pretty good for an Italian war movie, about the WWII Italian army.  Not exactly my favorite subgenre.  It can be boring at times, but so is war from a soldier’s viewpoint.  The movie is realistic about soldier life (privations and dysentery) and the randomness of death.  You definitely get the microview as the five main characters don’t have a clue about the big picture and neither does the audience.  You won’t learn much about the Battle of El Alamein from this movie.  You do learn that the Italian soldiers were human beings.  The main characters are well-played and appealing.  In fact, there are no villains in the film.  Serra may remind of Chris Taylor background-wise, but that is where the “Platoon” parallels cease.  Serra is welcomed into the unit and there is no hazing.  By the way, Rizzo reminded me of Sgt. Elias.

                The movie is well made.  The cinematography is average, but the music is outstanding.  It is eerie and foreboding at times.  The themes are pretty thick.  Abandonment, survival against the odds, soldiers are pawns, the role of luck (or miracles as the movie proclaims) in warfare.  Certainly the experiences of Italian soldiers in North Africa were rife for exploring these themes.  It is important to note that the movie is sad, but not maudlin.  I did not feel contempt for the Italians, like I have when reading about the war in North Africa.  The movie develops sympathy for them.  I guess they deserved that.

Christmas cheer?  It’s not bad, but I doubt I will remember it.

Grade =  B-

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