LA GRANDE GUERRA
Italy / 1959 / 129'
The Oreste Jacovacci, a sentinel from Rome has promised Giovanni Busacca, his conscript soldier from Milan, to have him declared unfit for service in exchange for money. But Giovanni is able-bodied and wearing his uniform he looks for Oreste to teach him a lesson. When they meet, however, the two men make friends and end up together in Tigliano, a small village behind the lines where, day by day, they wait to be sent to the front line. In the meantime, Giovanni meets Costantine, a woman of easy virtue and gives in to diversion, only to discover that she has stolen his wallet and money. The day they have been waiting with fear comes: Giovanni and Oreste are sent to the front line, where they meet new soldiers: the tenant, former gym teacher, the young soldier who yearns for Lyda Borelli, the chaplain Bonoglia. They celebrate Christmas time in the best way possible; winter ends, spring is announced; the fighting start again. Oreste and Giovanni, while they are on patrol, meet an Austrian soldier: they could kill him, but they don’t feel like doing so. The battle starts: dead and injured soldiers, attacks and counter-attacks. Oreste and Giovanni are sent on a mission to deliver a message, but on their way back they are separated from their group. To protect themselves against the cold weather they wear their enemies’ coats: captured by the Austrian soldiers they are thought to be spies. They can only save their lives by providing information about their mission. At first they are ready to silence their conscience and inform, but before the arrogance of the officer that interrogates them, Giovanni refuses to talk and is shot. Oreste does the same and is subjected to the same destiny. Their sacrifice is not useless: their fellow soldiers attack and victory is within reach. The film was shot in Friuli, in Venzone, Sella Sant'Agnese (above Ospedaletto), Palmanova and Nespoledo di Lestizza. In 2004 on the same set, and with the financial support of the Regional Government, they shot the documentary I sentieri della Gloria: the film maker and the set designer return to the same places 45 years later. The film was awarded the “Leone d'oro” at Venice Film Festival in 1959 ex-aequo with Il generale Della Rovere by Roberto Rossellini. “Nastro d'argento” in 1960 to Alberto Sordi and to the set designer Mario Garbuglia. “David di Donatello” in 1960 to Vittorio Gassman and Alberto Sordi as well as to the producer Dino de Laurentiis.
Mario Monicelli was born in Viareggio, Lucca (Italy) on 15th May 1915. Son of the journalist and playwright Tommaso Monicelli, he grew up in Viareggio, and in the early 30s attended high school and university in Milan. There he developed and shared his passion for cinema with his cousin Mondadori, with whom he wrote for the magazine "Camminare", where other future film-makers were collaborating: Alberto Lattuada, Riccardo Freda and Renato Castellani. In 1934, with Alberto Mondadori, he made a silent short in 16 mm, Il cuore rivelatore, taken from one of Poe’s tales. The following year, the two men shot the full-length film, I ragazzi della via Paal, recruiting friends and relatives as actors, and winning a prize in Venice for the best film of its gauge He worked as assistant director for Gustav Machaty, Genina, Camerini, Gentilomo, Bonnard, Mattoli, Germi and together with Steno started a productive association to become firstly collaborators for the satirical newspaper "Marc'Aurelio" and then prolific screenwriters. He made his debut as a director with Steno in 1949 with the film Totò cerca casa and after eight films together (including Al diavolo la celebrità, Totò e i re di Roma and Guardie e ladri), he continued by himself starting with Proibito (1954) starring Lea Massari. He started to become a “national-popular” author, disrespectful of any rhetoric, pessimistic, fierce, demystifying the sacred and continually searching for the human frailties of his characters, highlighting also their villainy and ridiculous characteristics. The most successful and enjoyable film of this period is without any doubts I soliti ignoti (1958), which had the merit of bringing fame to the actor Vittorio Gassman. On the same level, films such as La grande guerra (1959), starring Vittorio Gassman and Alberto Sordi, and I compagni (1963), that received an Oscar nomination for the story and screenplay, bring to the screen pages of history and tradition. In these years he also shot L'armata Brancaleone (1966), a grotesque representation of the Middle Ages, and La ragazza con la pistola (1968), Amici miei (1975), Un borghese piccolo piccolo (1977), Speriamo che sia femmina (1986). He received four Oscar nomination for his production of the best foreign film with I soliti ignoti, La grande guerra, La ragazza con la pistola and I nuovi mostri (1977) and two nominations for best original story and screenplay for I compagni and Casanova 70 (1965). He received several “David di Donatello” awards; for the best direction with Un borghese piccolo piccolo, Speriamo che sia femmina and Il male oscuro (1990), “Nastri d'Argento” and two “Leone d'Oro” prizes, one for the best film with La grande guerra and the other for his career in 1991. He was also a theatre director, playwright and television director; he has occasionally acted in some films such as L'allegro marciapiede dei delitti (1979) and Sono fotogenico (1980). In 1990, a critical period for the Italian cinema, he managed to stay afloat directing Alessandro Haber, Cinzia Leone, Marina Confalone and Paolo Panelli in the anti-family comedy Parenti Serpenti (1992), working then with actors such as Villaggio, Troisi, Melato and Placido in Cari fottutissimi amici (1994), Facciamo Paradiso (1995) and Panni Sporchi (1999). At the beginning of the new millennium he talked to the public and critics about what has mostly obsessed him in his life: war. The film Le rose del deserto (2006) once again gives an anti heroic vision of the Italian army. His sixty-year long career has been spent observing the reality of Italian society, with a watchful but disenchanted look, leaving the stamp of his personal and brilliant style in all his films, thus demonstrating he has been a steady point of reference in the history of Italian cinema.