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The Lost movie of the week: La grande guerra (1959)

Alberto Sordi was one of Italy’s greatest actors. He was insanely popular during his life. When he died, just before his 83th birthday, a million people came to pay their last respects at his funeral. The second largest event ever attended in Rome, after the one of Pope John Paul II who died two years later.

Famous for his comedies, he always injected a touch of drama in his best films. “La grande  guerra” is a comedy which shows the inhumanity of war.

Italy, 1916. Oreste Jacovacci (Alberto Sordi) and Giovanni Busacca (Vittorio Gassman) try in every way to avoid serving in the army. But war is getting everyday closer. During the most important battle among Italians and Austro-Hungarians, Giovanni and Oreste are in charge to deliver a vital message to the Italian headquarters. But, unfortunately, they fall in the hands of an Austrian officer.

Mario Monicelli (The Usual Unidentified Thieves, The Organizer) directs this pacific tragicomedy painting the image of the irresponsible Giovanni and Oreste as ordinary soldiers, the ones who fight and die, but are kept ignorant about the plans of their commanders. The film uses Giovanni and Oreste to comically reflects the grotesque, calculated irresponsibility of their superiors.

Monicelli  has shot the film in a beautiful black-and-white, stressing the dreadful conditions of the war. Combining Alberto Sordi and Vittorio Gassman, one of Italy most versatile and popular actor of all time, was genius. Playing the perfect antiheroes trying to avoid the war by all means. Lost on the battlefield but sharing an incontestable chemistry.

The black humour, neorealist approach and story of the film which undermines the patriotic rhetoric of the war was hugely contested by conservative groups and the military at his release. Nevertheless the film became a huge success at the box-office and won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. “La grande  guerra” was also nominated for an Academy award for Best Foreign Film in 1960.

Stanley Berenboom

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