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Friday, May 12, 2017

IL DESERTO DEI TARTARI / THE DESERT OF THE TARTARS (1976)

As the DVD package says, BEAU GESTE meets WAITING FOR GODOT in Valerio Zurlini’s existential epic.* Adapted from a once famous 1940 novel by Dino Buzzati, the cast list includes Vittorio Gassman, Max von Sydow, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Fernando Rey & Philippe Noiret; yet you’ve probably never heard of it. A stinker? Some uncinematic Euro-Centric lost-generation jeremiad? A plotless, philosophically-minded screed on the insanity of (metaphysical) war published on the cusp of a new outbreak? The story touches all the expected Foreign Legion tropes as a junior officer finds his jejune/romantic ideas/ideals of military adventure quickly replaced with rigid custom, brutal discipline & bitter cynicism from a motley core of worn out eccentrics at a border fort where everyone waits . . . and waits . . . and waits for the coming hordes of savages to overwhelm them. But here, as a literary work, not some potboiler, offered with the languid tone of an exhausted civilization on the verge of mental & moral collapse. And given a magnificent production in the spectacular ghost city of Bam, Iran, emptied by an earthquake into a barren, ancient desert metropolis. A perfect setting for the elaborate rituals of a dying aristocracy unraveling toward its end. More intriguing than successful, even as socio-political commentary, yet you know you’re watching something.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Possibly a better description posits a Foreign Legion pic divvied up for Michelangelo Antonioni on exteriors and Luchino Visconti on interiors.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: The film’s producer/star Jacques Perrin can’t quite hold the screen as needed against that starry support. But comes thru at the end, wasting away in shockingly believable fashion.

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