La Grande Guerra
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  • La Grande Guerra
  • 137 minutes  -  Drama
  • Original title: La Grande Guerra
  • Director:Mario Monicelli
  • Language: Italian
  • Country: Italy

La Grande Guerra, from 1959, is one of the most appreciated of Mario Monicelli’s movies: a tableaux of Italy during World War I.

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REVIEW BY Andrea Movie EXPERT
Review posted: 25/03/2014

La Grande Guerra, from 1959, is one of the most appreciated of Mario Monicelli’s movies: a tableaux of Italy – and above all, of “Italianity” – during World War I. With a lucid eye, it describes life in the trenches in a manner far removed from typical propagandistic representations. In fact, at first, the movie was criticized, and it was only later that it was recognized as a great film and awarded a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.


"The movie is particularly attentive to realistic historical details and offers an ironic point of view that doesn’t spare human cruelty and which is always committed to the voices of the two great protagonists."


Oreste Jacovacci (Alberto Sordi) and Giovanni Busacca (Vittorio Gassman) meet during a military examination. From the outset, there emerge certain features that years later would come to define a genre, commedia all'italiana (Comedy Italian Style). But Monicelli always keeps in mind the cultural peculiarities of his characters. In the first scenes, a Milanese says to a Roman, “l'italiano in fanteria, il romano in fureria.” This means that the man from the South – the Roman, in this case – always finds his way into the “best” places, even during wartime: “fureria” was a military but bureaucratic place. The proverbially diffident Milanese never really trusts the Roman man – or Southern people in general. In fact, he later states, after calling the Roman a Sicilian, “Da Parma in giù son tutti romani, e camorristi anche” (From Parma to the South, all are Romans, and Camorrists too). “Camorristi” are members of the Camorra, one of the most widespread mafia organizations.

Beyond the rhetoric of honor, what emerges from the battlefield is the fear of war, the disorientation felt by people involved in a conflict that “isn’t their own” and for which they know not the reasons. The movie dives into history, into the trenches, where we can see a cross-section of the Italian troops, in all their cultural and linguistic variety: Sicilian, Pugliese, Venetian, and so on. We can hear every kind of dialect, along with “lower” and “vulgar” words, insults like “mona” (stupid), from Venice; “lazarùn” (coward), from Milan; and “fess” (stupid), from Puglia. Sometimes, the Italians don’t even understand each other. At a certain point, upon hearing of the arrival of the Austrians, the Roman exclaims, “Sò amici tuoi, bergamaschi: han detto 'commendatur,'” and the Milanese man replies, “No, son austriaci, han detto 'comandantur.'” Some Northern dialects are closer to other languages than to different forms of Italian! 50 years after the unification of Italy, the country was still a chaotic mélange of various cultures. In fact, real “unity” would not be reached until the 1960s, with the arrival of television and improvements in education, which spread a uniform Italian language. Yet, during the Great War, and despite their differences, all soldiers are the same, because, “Il cannon mica sceglie la persona indelligent e quella fess’, chiud gli occh', apre la vocc, e chi tocca tocca.” In the Pugliese dialect, this literally means: “The cannon doesn't make distinctions between an intelligent person and a stupid one: close your eyes, open your mouth, and who else can the next one be.” Definitely, the movie is particularly attentive to realistic historical details and offers an ironic point of view that doesn’t spare human cruelty and which is always committed to the voices of the two great protagonists. One of the best moments in the movie is when Oreste tells a child, “Beatu che sei nato nel 1916, così non farai mai a guerà” (Blessed you, born in 1916, who will never make war). Obviously, history will prove this statement wrong!


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