Monday, June 26, 2017

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2017: Lo squadrone bianco, Augusto Genina, 1936

A colonialist adventure setting filtered through fascist melodrama: A weak, lovelorn bourgeois flees his girlfriend (who is borderline crazy herself - played by a statuesque Fulvia Lanzi; strangely, it's her only acting credit, judging from this great performance, she could've easily made it as an Italian Zarah Leander) by enlisting for war in the desert. After at first being despised by his tough guy peers, he earns their respect through both fortitude in battle and erotic self-denial. In the end, he's just another lonely psychopath in the desert.

Lo squadrone bianco is Duce approved (winner of Coppa Mussolini 1936), and ideologically dubious  in more ways than one (although the depiction of Arabs is paternalistic rather than racist, in obvious contrast to German films of the same period set in Africa) but also powerful filmmaking. The long desert campaign in the center of the film reduces the whole world to sand, camels, sweating bodys, and fluorescent shadowplay. The night scenes are especially beautiful: the film abandons the narrative completely, succumbs to a trance-like despair - at one time, there's a cutaway to the heroe's girlfriend visiting an orchester performance. She arrives at her (ultimately pointless) decision to surrender to her man's vanity almost without speaking a single word, it's all done by music and subtle camera movements.

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