Saturday, December 14, 2013
(March 1992, U.S.)
Perhaps I've mentioned this before, but in case I haven't, it may interest some of you to know that I spent most of the decade of the 1990s multiplex movie-hopping. You see, this is what happens when you don't have a steady woman in your life - you have a lot of time to yourself and what better way to save money on high ticket prices than to see three (sometimes four) movies in one day. Security at most of these multiplexes, at least back in the day when I was still going to them, was total shit! And so, one Saturday night over Memorial Day weekend in 1992, I decided to take a drive from my beach house to a rather large neighborhood movie theater in Southampton, Long Island to see the first big blockbuster film of the summer, ALIEN 3. When it was over, I managed to convince myself that there was a fair amount of redeeming qualities for this sequel, though I'd later realize that I was wrong and that it was just another pointless Hollywood money maker and nothing else. Anyway, when this sci-fi dud was over, I wasn't quite ready to end the evening for myself. I decided to walk into another theater to sit down to watch whichever film was due to start right away. As it turned out, it was an Italian film I'd only vaguely heard about called MEDITERRANEO. I had no idea what it was about, but like I said, I wasn't about to go home with nothing more on my mind than Ripley's inevitable death in ALIEN 3. Besides, over the last couple of years, my interest in foreign cinema had started to peak upon seeing CINEMA PARADISO some years earlier. So I suppose anything was possible at this point.
Well, I can only say that my time and efforts for the evening had not gone to waste because this film is an absolute gem! It's a very simple story of a group of misfit Italian soldiers during World War II in 1941 who are sent to a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea for four months of lookout duty. The soldiers include a lieutenant who likes art, a macho sergeant, a farmer accompanied by his beloved donkey, and other quirky people. These men are not particularly good soldiers, but a cross section of average, independent, and quite likable men. During the time that they anticipate some form of attack by the enemy, they soon realize that it's not going to come. On top of that, their radio has been destroyed, cutting them off from the war and the world. This island of tranquility is soon and slowly populated with people, actually just women, children and the local priest because all of the men were previously deported by the German enemy. The local villagers decide to accommodate the Italian soldiers and welcome them into their community and their hearts. It isn't long before everyone's sunny nature and personality becomes apparent in this place of beauty. The soldiers are absorbed into the life, heat and landscape of this idyllic island. There's even a local prostitute who makes her availability to the men apparent from nearly the moment they arrive. And as beauty and simplicity would have it, it's the youngest and most naïve of the soldiers who inevitably falls in love with her, and in a rather amusing scene with a shotgun, openly declares that no other soldier is to touch her ever again. Now isn't THAT the perfect blend for a love story? Men meet hooker, men fuck hooker, man falls in love with hooker, man and hooker get married, other men never get laid again! Ah, love!!
By the time the men do leave the island, the war is over and the hopes of rebuilding a new Italy for the future are in the air. Hopes and history, however, don't always meet in the end. At the film's conclusion, several of the surviving soldiers are reunited as old men in the present day, having returned to the island that ultimately brought out the best in their lives. In a great sense, this small Italian film is a giant tribute to all those who secretly (or not so secretly) seek to abandon and escape from the grind of their existence and disappear into a land where the rest of the outside world no longer exists or matters. I understand that fantasy all too well. Despite being a man who loves his family, I often long for the pure solitude of the open air and the great sea. Sometimes I get it in very small dosages out in the Hamptons, but then again, I'm still surrounded by neighbors!
MEDITERRANEO won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of 1991.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Nicola Lo Russo: "Life isn't enough. One life isn't enough for me. There aren't enough days. Too many things to do, too many ideas. Every sunset upsets me because another day has gone by."