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Ecco l’uomo: Celebrating Italian Actors

Wednesday, August 5, 2009
7:00 p.m. The Desert of the Tartars
Valerio Zurlini (Italy/France/Iran, 1976)

(Il deserto dei Tartari). This gem by Valerio Zurlini is an extraordinary showcase for Vittorio Gassman, as well as for Zurlini regular Jacques Perrin, who produced the film, and a host of international stars (Max Von Sydow, Philippe Noiret, Fernando Rey, Jean-Louis Trintignant). Dino Buzzati’s 1940 novel is a discomfiting story about man’s basic fear of the unknown. In the film this fear is symbolized by its location, a dreadful desert on the edge of some unknown country. A looming fortress (the film was shot at the fortress of Bam, in southeast Iran) is a strange purgatory for the aristocratic officers who inhabit it, latter-day Crusaders devoted to defense against chimerical enemies. This allegory about the need for illusion takes on Kafkaesque qualities as the garrison becomes entrenched in its ritualized preparations for the enemy-that-never-comes. The enemy that triumphs will be the combined forces of illness and ennui. Zurlini erects an arid, hyperrealistic landscape to support a surrealistic vision, as if Buñuel had directed Grand Illusion.

—Judy Bloch

• Written by André Brunelin, Jean-Luís Bertucelli, based on the book by Dino Buzzati. Photographed by Luciano Tavoli. With Jacques Perrin, Vittorio Gassman, Philippe Noiret, Max Von Sydow. (140 mins, In Italian with English subtitles, Color, 35mm, From Cinecittà Holding)