Last night, LL and I finished out the semester at the last film in the foreign film series at Ursinus College. We saw Mediterraneo, an Italian film from 1991, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1992.
It was a sweet little film, nothing especially profound--I notice the local film snob didn't even bother attending this one; LL and I joked about how it must not be high-concept enough for him. But what it does set out to do, I thought it succeeded well at.
The plot in brief: The crew members of an Italian ship are assigned to take a small Greek island and to keep a look out for the enemy. When they get there, it appears the island is abandoned, yet they are stranded after their boat is blown up and they lose their radio. Gradually, they begin to learn that the island is not really abandoned, and the Greek inhabitants emerge and make contact when they figure out that the Italians aren't going to attack them.
As the blurb in the Grizzly says:
The film tells the story of eight Italian soldiers who are cut off from their superiors and encounter a liberated magical community of beautiful women, sad-hearted prostitutes, a sympathetic priest and no resistance. Directed by Gabriele Salvatores, “Mediterraneo” received the 1992 Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film.
But things are not always what they seem...as time wears on, who the enemy is and isn't becomes less clear, and each man has to figure out for himself what to do and how to act. In the process, they learn more about themselves and about how to live their lives.
The pacing, dialogue, and sense of humor are very different from standard Hollywood fare, plus it's subtitled, which may make this movie inaccessible to the mass American audience. Personally, I like trying to match subtitles to dialogue, and I found the humor (visual as well as verbal) laugh-out-loud funny at times, although I noticed sometimes I was the only one in the theatre laughing. Like when they first arrived, and found a Greek graffito (something like "Η Ελλάδα θα είναι ο τάφος των Ιταλών" [I'm not exactly sure], meaning "Greece will be the tomb of the Italians".), and one of the soldiers didn't quite get it and had to have it explained a couple of times. It was funny and ironic, because of the shared history of the Romans and the Greeks, as well as the fact that Greek history predates the Roman one by centuries, yet this soldier (and others)--clearly no intellectual--was not aware of that common past. Another funny visual was the contrast between the assimilated Italians, and the very formal British when they finally arrived. I found moments like that to be funny little treats all through the movie.
There is a recurring line throughout the film: "una faccia, una razza" ("one face, one race"), which emphasizes that Italian and Greek common history, culture, and humanity. By contrast, the sordidness of the war and of Italian politics seem so, I don't know, misplaced in terms of priorities. There is some pointed commentary on Italian politics, both during and after the war.
The evolution of the character of Farina is especially interesting; he starts out as little more than an Italian Radar O'Reilly, but by the end of the film, he stands up to make consequential decisions about what he truly wants for himself out of life--it would have been hard to see that coming from his character in the first part.
The film is dedicated to all those who run away, and while I'm no longer in that phase of my life anymore, I very much understand the sentiment. It is a nice little movie, perfect as an escapist film, because it is exactly about escape.