Watch The Desert of the Tartars
The Desert of the Tartars, released in 1976 and directed by Valerio Zurlini, is a poignant, slow-burning war drama set in an isolated outpost in a mountainous border region. Based on the celebrated novel of the same name by Dino Buzzati, the movie follows young Lieutenant Giovanni Drogo (Jacques Perrin), who after graduating from the academy, is sent to the Fort Bastiani, a remote military garrison on the edge of a vast, barren desert. Though initially excited about his new posting, Giovanni soon realizes that he has been relegated to the lowest rung of the military hierarchy, with hardly any prospect of promotion or escape. As the years roll on, Giovanni becomes increasingly withdrawn and disillusioned. He spends his days watching the mountains in the distance, scanning the horizon for the Tartars, a legendary enemy that no one has seen for generations. Meanwhile, he befriends a handful of fellow officers and enlisted men, including the grizzled Lieutenant Simeon (Vittorio Gassman), the friendly Captain Hortiz (Giuliano Gemma), and the wistful, beautiful Adriana (Dominique Sanda), who visits the fort occasionally with her father. As time passes, Giovanni's sense of purpose and identity becomes entwined with the fort and its bleak, oppressive surroundings. He takes solace in the routine of military life, the camaraderie of his fellow officers, and the endless drills and patrols that structure his days. However, as he nears the end of his initial three-year contract, a sense of restlessness and anxiety overtakes him. He has grown attached to the desolate, hostile desert, and fears leaving it behind. Moreover, the prospect of returning to his old life in the city fills him with dread, as he feels he has lost touch with "normal" society and its values. The movie's themes of alienation, disillusionment, and the search for meaning and purpose are conveyed with masterful subtlety and poetic grace. The cinematography is breathtaking, with the rugged, parched landscape of the desert serving as both a metaphor and a character in its own right. The cast is uniformly excellent, with Jacques Perrin giving a nuanced, understated performance as the conflicted, melancholic protagonist. Vittorio Gassman, in the role of the gruff, seasoned veteran, conveys a sense of world-weariness and stoic acceptance of one's fate. Giuliano Gemma injects levity and warmth into the movie as the jovial Captain Hortiz. Overall, The Desert of the Tartars is a haunting, thought-provoking work of art that stays with you long after the credits roll. Whether viewed as a metaphor for the human condition, a critique of militarism and institutionalized conformity, or simply a tale of men in isolation, the movie has a timeless quality that resonates with audiences of all ages and backgrounds. It is a testament to the enduring power of cinema to provoke, inspire, and connect us to our deepest emotions and aspirations.