In the early 1960s, nearly 20 years since the Second World War ended, an Italian general, accompanied by a priest who is also an Italian army colonel, is sent to Albania to locate and ...
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In the early 1960s, nearly 20 years since the Second World War ended, an Italian general, accompanied by a priest who is also an Italian army colonel, is sent to Albania to locate and collect the bones of his countrymen who had died during the war and return them for burial in Italy. As they go deeper into the Albanian countryside they find they are being followed by another general who is looking for the bodies of German soldiers killed in World War II.Written by
THE GENERAL OF THE DEAD ARMY (Luciano Tovoli, 1983) **1/2
The sole directorial effort from distinguished cinematographer Luciano Tovoli was, due to its unflattering portrayal of the Italian military forces, barely released in his native country and retitled L'ARMATA RITORNA aka THE ARMY RETURNS; in fact, the version I watched ran for just 84 minutes against the official length of 105! This was clearly a pet project for both Tovoli (who also co-photographed) and French actor Michel Piccoli, since they both co-wrote the film with celebrated screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere. For the record, Tovoli had previously worked for Michelangelo Antonioni (including THE PASSENGER), Dario Argento (including SUSPIRIA) and Walerian Borowczyk (BEHIND CONVENT WALLS) and among the other noted cinematographers who eventually made the transition to film directors include Karl Freund, Rudolph Mate' (easily the most successful one), James Wong Howe and Haskell Wexler.
The plot – of a general (Marcello Mastroianni) ordered to collect the dead bodies of hundreds of Italian soldiers who lost their lives on Albanian soil during WWII – had the potential to be a sharp satire but the humor is, surprisingly enough, often heavy-handed and even turns farcical with the introduction of the young boozing and mutilated German general (Gerard Klein) who, ultimately, contrives for a corpse fitting the description of the husband of the patron of the of the mission (Anouk Aimee – who, for no good reason, keeps calling them on the phone for updates!) to be found in the nick of time for his honorable burial back home. Ironically, Piccoli – who had served under Aimee's husband in the war and is clearly enamoured of her – had already arranged this (in a melodramatic fashion) but Mastroianni had kicked that body into the river in an effort to discredit him (having been revealed as a lecher)!; incidentally, Piccoli, here playing a high-ranking army chaplain, had already played a priest in his first film for Luis Bunuel, DEATH IN THE GARDEN (1956) and has just appeared as the Pope in Nanni Moretti's HABEMUS PAPAM (2011)! It should also be noted here that all three stars had previously worked together individually: Mastroianni and Aimee in Federico Fellini's 8½ (1963), Mastroianni and Piccoli in Marco Ferreri's LA GRANDE BOUFFE (1973) and Piccoli and Aimee in Marco Bellocchio's LEAP INTO THE VOID (1979); besides, the movie offers future Italian star and director Sergio Castellito a significant part as an Albanian guide/translator in his second film appearance.
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