Winner of three Italian Academy Awards, Enzo Monteleone?s incredibly powerful film recounts one of the epic battles of WWII, in which the Italian army, fighting alongside the Germans, sought to drive the Allied forces from... more » North Africa. Dealing with enemy ground and air attacks on one hand, extreme daytime heat and nighttime cold on the other, and their commanders? muddled inability to command, the troops were basically abandoned and forced to make do as best as they could. Focusing on the intimate, emotional lives of these soldiers, El Alamein forcefully conveys the message that war?from any time and in any place?is truly hell.« less
"El Alamein: Line of Fire is an Italian war film that depicts the Italian point of view in the pivotal Battle of El Alamein in the fall of 1942. The time period covered is early October to about 8 November 1942. Overall, this film was better than I expected but it has a rather mixed quality to it. The non-combat scenes that portray the grimy quality of life in the front-line trenches are excellent and the character development is very good, but the combat scenes are sub-par.
El Alamein follows the standard war film conceit: the small unit drama. In this case, the unit is a company-size detachment in the 27th Infantry Regiment, 17th "Pavia" Division, stationed at the extreme south of the Axis line next to the Qattara Depression. The main characters are Lieutenant Fiori, Sergeant Rizzo and the new-comer, Private Serta. The first half of the film involves the tedium and suffering of static warfare in the desert, particularly with the emphasis on poor supplies of water and food. There are several minor episodes in this phase of the film which are used to "flesh out" the main characters, with the most interesting being Sergeant Rizzo and Serta going into the Qattara Depression to look for a lost Bersaglieri patrol. Uniforms, small arms and kit used in the film are authentic, but not quite as comprehensive as what was used in the better "Captain Corelli's Mandolin." The director also makes great effort to depict the utter lack of concern of Mussolini and the Italian generals for their troops at the frontline, including sending exhortations to "fight or die" instead of sending potable water. On the other hand, I was glad that the director chose to omit any type of conflict or tension within the unit, which so often is used to unrealistically depict life in combat units. The soldiers get along fairly well and Private Serta's adaptation to the front is fairly smooth, unlike other trashy films like "Platoon" that emphasize internal discord. Overall, this first half of the film is probably the best and compares well with other foreign war films, such as the Finnish "Ambush."
Once the British attack begins on 23rd October - about halfway through the film - the quality starts to decline a bit. Obviously, the film did not have a big budget and it is difficult to depict a battle that involved over 300,000 troops without spending some. Furthermore, the film becomes somewhat unhistorical as far as depicting the British attacks - British tanks (actually modern M60 tanks) are shown driving on line toward the Italian positions with headlights on! Nor do the Italian positions have much in the way of AT mines or AT guns in support (in fact, the Italians had 47mm AT guns and artillery supporting all the frontline positions), so the British just roll fight over them. Our boys from the "Pavia" are sent to reinforce the "Folgore" parachute division and suffer about 50% losses, but hold. In reality, these were diversionary attacks while the main British attack was to the north. Indeed, the "Pavia" division saw less action at El Alamein than most Axis units.
The end comes rather quickly once the British breakthrough in the north. Rommel and the Afrika Korps retreat westward, leaving the Italians to fend for themselves (the Germans are shown very little, only yelling "you're all going to die" as they drive by them). The men of Pavia begin walking westward in the desert, but soon all of the company is captured except for LT Fiori, Rizzo and Serta. At this point, once it becomes clear that they cannot elude the British and that their chances for survival in the desert are nil, the viewer will wonder why these characters would chose to press on. Indeed, it appears that one motive of this film was to portray the Italian soldier in the Second World War as more stalwart and resolute than popularly imagined. However, the reality is that the majority of the Italians who fought at El Alamein were captured and thousands sought out the British rather than die in the desert.
Aside from lack of proper heavy weapons in the film (a British aircraft is shown once), the other problem with the film is the omission of any substantial role for either the Germans or the British. This omission induces a "Robinson Crusoe" quality to the film, where you almost feel that these men are marooned in the desert with no friends or foes. In actuality, Rommel had inter-mixed German and Italian units at El Alamein to "stiffen" the weaker Italian formations. Instead, we only get a glimpse of retreating Germans and it is highly unfavorable. The British are shown only as casualties on the ground, or in silhouette as attackers in the night, but we are never shown any POWs or close-interaction, as in "Saving Private Ryan." Overall, this film is a commendable effort and worth viewing to gain Italian perspectives, but like many in this genre, it has sacrificed realism due to a combination of budget constraints and nationalistic conceits. "
Solid war WWII movie from an Italian point of view
Virgil | Chapel Hill, NC | 05/17/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"El Alamein tells the story of the battle from the point of view of the Italian side, especially from that of a young Italian lieutenant volunteering for combat and the infantry company he's assigned to with the Pavia Infantry division. The film is a bleak look at how the Italian troops were left to fend for themselves by their own commanders and with little resources at their disposal. The battle scenes are decent, not as good as they could be in the sense they probably didn't have the technical resources or budget an American film would've had, but good enough to give a sense of combat.
Things are pretty tough on the line, water is in short supply, soldiers have to loot the packs of dead Brits (technically I think Anzacs may have been opposite them) in order to get things like canned fruit, investigate the loss of communication with a Bersagliari scout position and the constant artillery barrages which decimates much of the company's fighting strength.
It comes to a head in a final series of defensive battles prior to which much of the more mobile German army retreats leaving the foot infantry like the Pavia and adjacent Folgore Airborne Division on their own. Outnumbered and out gunned the company commander finally tries to lead the remnants of his unit back to the Axis rear through the North African desert.
While the truth is that German interspersed their units among the Italian units like the Pavia and Folgore, they also retreated leaving most of the line infantry who without transportation to fend for themselves. This included sacrificing the Italian Ariete Armored division to provide a screen for Rommel's retreat. Although the southern attacks were considered feints, they weren't by any means light attacks. The Folgore itself, adjacent to the Pavia, fought off several combined ANZAC attacks and destroyed 120 tanks with only a handfull of anti-tank weapons and armour.
Much of the negative treatment of Italians in the war was also misleading. While many of the Italian units were poorly equiped and poorly led, units like the Folgore, Bersaglieri, Ariete and even the Pavia conducted themselves well. The Ariete was destroyed in a final 'screen', while the Folgore by all accounts fought fiercly with or without Ramcke's troops alongside them. Of the main-line infantry the Pavia probably conducted themselves best with a decent cadre of junior officers most units only surrendered after being decimated or running out of ammunition.
'El Alamein' to a large extent reflects the abandonment felt by the line soldiers who did their duty, the resentment of much of Italian writings during the war which blames Rommel for scapegoating them for his own failings and an underlying sense of resentment at the negative treatment given the Italian soldiers on the line and attempts to present another side. Good film, worth a look by WWII buffs."
A Great War Movie!
G. Eberling | 08/27/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I rented this film on a fluke from Blockbuster Video and enjoyed thoroughly. It is unusually good and gritty. It does not glorify war. In addition, you feel what the central characters are experiencing as they await their fate in the hot Saharan desert. You almost feel like you're right there with them sweating it out with no water or food provisions.
War from the loser point of view
Walter Volpatto | Los Angeles, CA USA | 07/09/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'm biased because I worked on this movie but it is a very good prospective from the point of view of the people who fought in the WWII Africa front and lost. No Hollywood visual effects to fill the time, just the simple story told by who eventually survived the massacre, told as my grand parents where used to tell us when we where kids ( for those lucky enough to came back ). A sad story, a snippet for who doesn't know the history and the courage of the other side of the trench.
A different look at the war in North Africa
James D. Crabtree | Fayetteville, North Carolina | 02/18/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Although not entirely historically accurate (and few movies are) El Alamein seems to portray the daily life of the Italian soldier accurately: few supplies reaching them because of the length of their lines of communication, no transport, little in the way of heavy equipment, the German use (or misuse) of their tank assets, etc.
It also portrays the common suffering of all soldiers: seperation, sickness, exposure to the elements, poor food, no information... all elements that still ring true.