The Desert of The Tartars
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The Desert of the Tartars is a 1976 film directed by Valerio Zurlini (1926-82). Although Zurlini never attained the international stardom of Antonioni, Visconti or Fellini he was arguably among the greatest Italian filmmakers of the post-war era. He developed his own distinct style combining an acute sensitivity to landscape with a strong interest in human psychology. His most famous movies are Violent Summer (1959), The Girl with a Suitcase (1960), The Professor (1972) and, finally, The Desert of the Tartars.
The Desert of the Tartars is based on the acclaimed novel of the same name by Dino Buzzati. The film is quite faithful to the book’s spirit and narrative. It tells the story of the young officer Giovanni Drogo who sets out from the city for Fort Bastiani, his first posting. The remote border fortress is situated somewhere at the easternmost end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, surrounded by rugged mountains and the vast and desolate Desert of the Tartars. Its mission is to prevent an attack from Tartars from beyond the desert. But do these Tartars really exist? Have they ever existed? Nobody in the fortress knows for sure. Some claim the frontier is “dead” but, as Captain Ortiz (played by Max Von Sydow) says, “the frontier is always the frontier and one never knows.”
With an all-male cast and a fortress as the location one would expect the Desert of the Tartars to be an action-packed movie. But Fort Bastiani is not Fort Alamo. Nothing much happens really. The pace of life is slow. We follow Drogo and the other main characters as the months and years go by. We witness boredom and loneliness, spiritual deterioration. The health of Drogo slowly deteriorates too. Still he never leaves the fortress. The place has a strange bewitching effect on him. There is always a sense of anticipation in the air, a longing for the great battle, a hope that one day the Tartars will really emerge. Finally, in the end, something happens...
The Desert of the Tartars is basically an “existential” film about the absurdities of human life. It is also a movie in which the border is ever-present. Life at Fort Bastiani centers around it. In the film the meaningfulness as well as the meaninglessness of the border is well portrayed.
The film is visually remarkable. It was shot in a truly “exotic” location, the ancient citadel of Arg-é Bam in Southeast Iran, known from the writings of Marco Polo. The scenery of the place is mesmerizing: snow-clad mountains, an endless desert and, in the center of it, the impressive fortress itself. It is a mythic landscape, beautiful but also ominous. The evocative landscape is accompanied by a no less evocative soundscape created by Ennio Morricone.
Bjarge Schwenke-Fors, IKL/UiT
Schwenke-Fors vil holde innledning før filmen.