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This movie won an Oscar for best Foreign Film

‘Mediterraneo’ (NR)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 08, 1992

Remember these three things: lovable, Italian, bittersweet.

They are all essential to "Mediterraneo," the Italian movie that won the most recent foreign-picture Oscar. There's a fourth item you should remember too: an air sickness bag. It will serve you well while watching this schmaltzy island fantasy.

During World War II, eight misfit (the Italian version of wacky) soldiers are dispatched to a tiny island in the Aegean, their mission to "observe and capture." Lieutenant Claudio Bigagli, a teacher in peacetime, is the group philosopher. Giuseppe Cederna is the sweet-natured naif. Gigio Alberti has a loving fixation with his pet donkey. Sergeant Diego Abatantuono is the manly-sensitive one. Depressive, bald Claudio Bisio yearns for his faraway wife. Brothers Memo Dini and Vasco Mirandola are the squad cutups. The only things these lovable archetypes are missing are puppy tails.

When they arrive, the island seems deserted. Their isolation is complete when enemy fire claims their moored ship and when one of their own (in a fit of Italian rage) destroys the only radio. Then they discover the local community of lonely wives, old men and one priest; the young men have all been taken prisoner by the Germans. This is just the beginning of an "Odyssey"-like respite, in which the war -- and the world -- will ignore them for three years.

Our lovable Italian ensemble is now free to pursue its sundry passions. Bigagli takes up fresco painting for the local church. Friendly local whore Vanna Barba offers to accommodate all of the men -- on a rotational basis. If you know your Italian movies, to share the same prostitute is a beautiful thing. It's macho, it's sensitive, it's simpatico.

You'll find yourself missing the war.

There are other staples gleaned from every pandering Italian movie since "Bread and Chocolate." The two brothers, posted on a mountaintop lookout, do their own frolicking with a shepherdess. The latter, with her tousled hair and strategically bare shoulder, is so allegorical, she ought to come with a label. Watch also for panicked gunfire (these guys are misfits, remember), fluttering chickens, poetic waxing, accordion music, dancing against the sunset and a "Cinema Paradiso"-like reunion ending. This cloying daydream of a movie is dedicated to "those who are running away."

They must mean the world's dreamers, not those people running screaming from the theater.

Copyright The Washington Post

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