Uomini Contro (Many Wars Ago) (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
December 31, 2013 by Dennis Amith
Considered as a cult-favorite and even an Italian cinematic masterpiece by Francesco Rosi fans, if you are into anti-war films, “Uomini Contro” is one of the most audacious war films to be made in early ’70s but still retains its powerful message on how corrupt war truly is. “Uomini Contro” (Many Wars Ago) is recommended!
TITLE: Many Wars Ago (Uomini Contro)
FILM RELEASE: 1970
DURATION: 101 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 35 mm, 1:33:1, color, Italian Monaural DTS-HD MA
COMPANY: Raro Video
RATED: Not Rated
Release Date: January 7, 2014
Directed by Francesco Rosi
Based on the Novel by Emilio Lussu
Written by Tonino Guerra, Raffaele La Capria, Francesco Rosi
Produced by Marina Cicogna, Luciano Perugia, Francesco Rosi
Executive Produced by Giuliano Simonetti
Music by Piero Piccioni
Cinematography by Pasqualino De Santis
Edited by Ruggero Mastroianni
Production Design by Andrea Crisanti
Set Decoration by Ezio Di Monte
Costume Design by Franco Carretti, Gabriella Pescucci
Mark Frechette as Lt. Sassu
Alain Cuny as Gen. Leone
Gian Maria Volonte as Lt. Ottolenghi
Giampiero Albertini as Capt. Abbati
Pier Paolo Capponi as Lt. Santini
Franco Graziosi as Maj. Malchiodi
Mario Feliciani as Colonel Doctor
Alberto Mastino as Marrasi
Brunetto Del Vita Col. Stringari
In Northern Italy, WWI has turned into a bloody stalemate. Bogged down in their trenches on a barren highland, the men of an Italian infantry division have been given one objective: retake a commanding height from the enemy. Unfortunately, the tactical ingenuity of general Leone, the unpopular division commander, consists of supplementing frontal attacks against machine-guns with medieval fighting schemes. His dispirited troops must be prodded with ever harsher measures into storming the Austrian positions. As casualties mount, indignation spreads amongst the rank and file. Disturbed by the decisions of his superiors, lieutenant Sassu is progressively led to question the purpose of the war and to reconsider where his real duties lie.
One of the most controversial anti-war films to come out of Italy, Francesco Rosi’s “Uomini Contro” (Many Wars Ago) 1970 Italo-Yugoslav anti-war drama will be released in the U.S. courtesy of Raro Video featuring a new, digitally restored version in collaboration with the National Cinematheque and the Turin National Film Museum under the supervision of Francesco Rosi.
Based on Emilio Lussu’s 1938 novel “Un anno sull’altopiano”, Lussu was an Italian officer of the Sassari Infantry Brigade in 1916 and stationed on the Asiago Plateau. His experience in trench warfare was about how the common man would join the military but realize that joining the military was not going to make a difference because under the current military leaders, they were just enemy fodder.
An anti-fascist who was very active, he was sentenced for five years for shooting a squadristi in self-defense and eventually would escape to Paris where he would write his controversial book.
When filmmaker Francesco Rosi (“Carmen”, “Hands Over the City”, “La Sfida”) wanted to create a film adaptation on Lussu’s book, but go beyond it and try to make an anti-war film, especially with the Vietnam War still looming over the world.
Upon its screening at the Venice Film Festival in 1970, the reactions tot he film were violent by political groups who felt the film was a “public defamation of the army” and the film didn’t do well when it was released in theaters.
But for those who follow Rosi’s oeuvre, his films have resonated with cineaste long after they were released in theaters and for many of his fans, “Uomini Contro” is a Rosi masterpiece.
“Uomini Contro” is an audacious film which revolves around a group of Italian army officers during World War One on the Isonzo front (1916-1017). Instead of strategic planning, they are ordered by General Leone (portrayed by Alain Cuny) to follow his orders and die as a hero. In their role of trying to retake a commanding height from an enemy.
Anyone who is captured by the enemy twice, anyone who shows cowardice in the Italian army will be killed by their own.
And despite General Leone being a hero, he is an unpopular division commander that uses archaic schemes to take on the enemy ready to shoot with their machine guns.
From one scene of one of the heads of military asking someone to go to enemy territory with wire cutters and everyone not wanting to do it, he orders one of the men to go to the enemies front lines and with wire cutters. The two soldiers see no use of hiding from enemy fire, so they walk regularly to cut the wires and get mowed down in the process.
Another order is for a soldier to stand up to the enemy instead of staying down low to avoid the shots and if he gets shot, then he dies a hero.
But as the men realize what they signed up for is only going to lead them to their deaths, General Leone has the soldiers killing their own. Anyone who shows any dissent or wanting to show any sign of weakness are executed by their own people.
Suffice to say, if things are going to go along with Leone’s military ideals, no one is going to be left of the Italian army. And for vice corporal Sassu (portrayed by Mark Frechette), he begins to question the decisions of his superiors and the purpose of the war.
To fight for a war that will lead to genuine peace or to fight a war according to superiors who have treat their soldiers as enemy fodder.
“Uomini Contro” is presented in 1:33:1 aspect ratio and 1080p High Definition and features a new, digitally restored version in collaboration with the National Cinematheque and the Turin National Film Museum under the supervision of Francesco Rosi.
According to Sergio Toffetti, curator of Italian National Film Archive, the copy was “from a reversal belonging to the Italian National Film Archive. As the original negative has been lost, a duplicate negative was made according to an obsolete technical process which allows the original negative to be printed directly onto reversal film. The resulting film – the reversal – has a reasonably high level of definition, although some fluctuations of colour and dominant doubles tend to alter the original chromatics. The original tone and density of the colour may eventually be recovered using digital modern techniques.”
Picture quality for the film is very good considering the film is over 40-years-old. Certain scenes show natural skintones, great detail on close-ups, especially during outdoor scenes. While some areas may looked a bit aged (as the film does have slight color fluctuations due to the use of reversal restoration techniques), for the most part, “Uomini Contro” looks very good in HD with much better clarity and detail than older VHS and DVD versions of the film. And considering the original negative was lost, what the Cinecitta laboratories was able to come up with is fantastic.
I didn’t notice any artifacts or banding issues with the film and although the film is not featured in its original tone or colors, for now, considering the cost of restoration of this film, the film still looks very good in HD!
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Uomini Contro” is presented in Italian monaural via DTS-HD MA with English subtitles. Dialogue is clear via center channel. I didn’t notice any hiss, crackling or pops during my viewing of the film.
“Uomini Contro” comes with the following special features:
- Interview with the Director – (28:21) Featuring an interview with director Francesco Rosi about the film adaptation of “Uomini Contro”.
- Before and After Restoration
“Uomini Contro” comes with an 20-page booklet featuring “Many Wars Ago” by Lorenzo Codelli, “Pros and Contros” by Francesco Rosi and excerpts from interviews with staff on the making of the film.
During the Vietnam War, there were quite a few audacious films that are anti-war. From John Lennon’s role in Richard Lester’s 1967 anti-war film “How I Won the War”, Brian G. Hutton’s “Kelly’s Heroes” and also Robert Altman’s “MASH” to name a few.
But for Italian filmmaker Francesco Rosi, the goal was to stand up against any kind of war, to show that soldiers are treated as fodder by leaders and there only way out is death, because their leaders treat them as fodder with and are not interested in the pursuit of genuine peace.
We can see the unease of all soldiers when General Leone shows up and tries to tell them how to fight in war. From ordering the soldiers to kill one of their own men who tried to halt and warn his fellow soldiers from shooting their own. General Leone sees friendly fire as expendable and that those who die, will die as heroes for their country.
General Leone asks one of his commanding officers about how knives are used in his infantry division and the commanding officer tells him that they use it for cutting vegetables, for food, etc. But what the general wants to hear is knives being used as weapons of killing a person, not by using it as a tool for food.
And there are those who follow the beat of General Leone’s drum of using illogical methods. One leader asks his division leader to find someone who can go and cut a wired fence of the enemy in broad daylight. And that they were sending one soldier alongside with him.
The main soldier tries to fight against it and said he won’t do it until an order is given and when he does, at first he tries to hide and try not to get hit. But then realizes, there is no escape from cutting a wired fence in enemy territory with only two people and many machine guns in front of him. He realizes that he is being sent to his death but can’t fight against it because those are his orders and those who disobey orders will face an execution squad.
As these soldiers fight their enemies, their moral is now depleted, knowing that they are just experiments of war for the general.
One such absurd act was when General Leone sends a dozen or so soldiers wearing tin helmets as a form of protection. General Leone tries to use archaic logic of steel outfits in warfare to defeat the enemy and as the soldiers wear these lunky medieval helmets, they are all mowed down by machine gun.
In many ways, this bold and very balsy film is rather fascinating for how it shows military generals as elitist and in their own world. Thinking of their past accomplishments as people not interested in fighting are forced to fight and often forced to do something that will lead to their own deaths. Of course, in General Leone’s perspective, as long as soldiers die as heroes, that is all that matters.
As we see fear in the eyes of the soldiers, we see their leaders wanting to protect them but knowing that with a General so cold and have no sensitivity towards the soldiers but sees them as people who will die as heroes, it’s no wonder the infantry division looks so disheveled
As for the Blu-ray release of “Uomini Contro”, viewers are getting the best version of the film for now. Having undergone restoration, the film looks better than it has ever been. Could it look better with color repairs? Possibly using modern restration techniques but restoration is expensive and I think for now, “Uomini Contro is probably the best this film will ever look for now. Featuring a lossless monaural soundtrack and an interview with director Francesco Rosi, a before and after restoration comparison, plus a 20-page booklet.
Overall, Uomini Contro may be one of the most audacious anti-war films you will come across but its message can easily reach out to fighting soldiers or people who are tired of war, no matter how old this film can be.
Considered as a cult-favorite and even an Italian cinematic masterpiece by Francesco Rosi fans, if you are into anti-war films, “Uomini Contro” is one of the most audacious war films to be made in early ’70s but still retains its powerful message on how corrupt war truly is
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