84 year-old director Ermanno Olmi celebrates his birthday today.
With a film career that would have been considered brilliant had he ended it in the ’60s (Il Posto, I Fidanzati), Ermanno Olmi made what might be considered his masterpiece, Torneranno i Prati (Greenery Will Bloom Again) at age 83.
A deeply moving anti-war film, Torneranno i Prati memorializes Italian soldiers in WWI and most particularly his own father, who served and shared his harrowing experiences with his son. The title, Torneranno i prati, means “the fields will return” but has been translated to “Greenery Will Bloom Again” for English language audiences; in any case, it’s a kind of Flanders Fields for Italians.
It’s the end of the war and the soldiers are almost all sick and exhausted from sleeping on boards in a frigid bunker on the Austrian border; their captain has a raging fever and is hallucinating. When a major (Claudio Santamaria) shows up with orders that are both suicidal and impossible, the captain steps down in protest but also because he is physically unable to lead. They are all at the end of their ropes and all orders seem ridiculous.
Olmi has done as well as anyone ever has in showing the reality, the terror and the dark, depressing, hopelessness of war. There is very little dialogue because the soldiers are too tired to talk, and very little color because the shots are of filthy men in a dank bunker buried in the white snow. By their make-shift beds there are photos of home, of sweethearts and family farms that nobody seems to expect to ever see again.
Can a movie this depressing have an encouraging side? This one does, because we’re struck by the humanity that Olmi brings to the story, and grateful to artists like him who keep these memories alive.