Torn by personal guilt, Italian General Umberto Nobile reminisces about his 1928 failed Arctic expedition aboard the airship Italia.Torn by personal guilt, Italian General Umberto Nobile reminisces about his 1928 failed Arctic expedition aboard the airship Italia.Torn by personal guilt, Italian General Umberto Nobile reminisces about his 1928 failed Arctic expedition aboard the airship Italia.
For background, 100 to 80 years ago the world was captivated by polar explorers. All sorts of complex and powerful drama unfolded, reflecting both the power of natural forces and the destiny of nations. What got me into this global story was the confabulation of the Scott and Shackleton expeditions to the south pole. The world saw this as the end of empire for the Brits, and so it was. An aristocratic bearing and feeling of manifest destiny are thin tools to take into Antarctica. And the process of encounter and defeat had filmmakers along!
But once you get captured by the story, all sorts of other stories emerge. What's a great adventure is to track those through the films made to recount the original events, either as dramatizations or new fiction. One slant of course is films made by the Brits about themselves. Truly intriguing, sort of a "50 Up." Another are films made that focus on the technology. "Dirigible," sort of blew me away, even though I hardly realized that the events depicted here (the Nobile disaster) were only two years earlier. Ignorance of history thwarts the senses.
Now this. Here's the most interesting of them all so far as cinema is concerned. First let me say that the version I saw was the 2 hour one released to the world. Somewhere in post-Soviet vaults are two other "director's" cuts (whatever that means in a Soviet film industry), at a half hour the other an hour longer.
Mixed in here in a single stew are all sorts of threads and traditions.
Its by a great Soviet filmmaker. I've send one of his masterpieces and have yet to see the second. This, well this is a mess, obviously something that ran out of control. And that's one reason to love it: its just the sort of disaster it depicts: overblown, a second rate country trying to score internationally with a bold stroke and then unable to back out. There are wonderful scenes of a Russian ham operator intercepting the SOS and being left ashore on a rising drawbridge as the icebreaker sails without him. This sequence reminds you why Tarkovsky and Eisenstein matter. Its brilliant. Simply brilliant.
Its an international project. Though the main story here is of inept Italians, and the outcome was a major kick of that nation down stairs to the basement of relevance where it squats today, it was financed and coproduced by Italians! Italians and Soviets! What a mix. As a result, you can see the tussle in the story and staging, part "Dersu Uzala," part spaghetti western. Its set as a trial of the Italian general by ghosts from the story, and this (obviously inspired by later Bunuel). You have a Scot playing a Norweigian, a Brit an Italian, a Frenchwoman some nationality unknown , a Russian a Swede...
The arctic scenery is not as amazingly photographed as I would have expected, and footage from all sorts irrelevant spots are mixed helter skelter. It negates the coherence of the frigid threat.
Elsewhere, it attempts to find some complexity in the decisions and "accountability" of failed leaders, something the Italians share with Soviets of the era. This is a disaster, even with Sean Connery at his most renown, playing the one character that really mattered in the drama. That was the Amundsen, the man who was the first to the South Pole, a story of intelligence, planning and resolve over class and national arrogance. He literally changed the face of the earth. He was killed while looking for these inept adventurers.
We also have Claudia Cardinale shoehorned in. She's been in some massively great film experience. There are scenes with her in a romantic revelry in the snow that are among the most embarrassing I have ever seen. I mean this. She is lovely and redheaded here, but she should have been excised, though there is an intended great scene where she talks Connery into his doomed search for her already perished lover. Her scenes look like they were shot by an unknown Italian second unit guy.
Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
- Apr 13, 2007