Review: Once More Unto the Breach
by Davide Abbatescianni
- VENICE 2019: Federico Ferrone and Michele Manzolini direct an imaginary war story, constructed from archive footage and loosely adapted from diaries from the Ukrainian front
Federico Ferrone and Michele Manzolini have been working together for over 12 years and have dedicated a big part of their careers to the creative use of audiovisual databases, cleverly weaving together archive material, documentary, and fiction. Their latest film, Once More Unto the Breach [+see also:
interview: Federico Ferrone, Michele M…
film profile], presented in the Sconfini section of the 76th Venice International Film Festival, is freely inspired by the lives and diaries of soldiers Guido Balzani, Remo Canetta, Enrico Chierici, Adolfo Franzini, Nuto Revelli and Mario Rigoni Stern. Co-written with Wu Ming 2, Once More Unto the Breach is a fictional story constructed with official and amateur archive footage, and with, at its centre, the story of an Italian soldier leaving for the front in the early stages of the Second World War.
The film opens on a card introducing the historical context of 1941 when, in June, the Nazi German army invaded the USSR and, in the following month, Italy sent its first soldiers to the Ukraninan front, where today rages the war in Donbass. After a few evocative archive images showing a child playing in a snowy forest, the viewer first hears the voice narrating the film, that of musician and writer Emidio Clementi. In this documentary, Clementi does a great job of reconstituting, efficiently and without rhetorical trappings, the emotions, sensations and thoughts of the soldier. This character’s words are rich in meaning and often evoke poetic images and dreams of a world now distant in our memory, yet relatively close in our history.
The archival material gathered by the two directors beautifully intersects with the narration and with the soldier’s stream of consciousness — it often feels like we are watching the landscapes from the train window, the faces of fellow soldiers and peasants or even a simple road sign directly seen from the point of view of the character. Moreover, the score by Simonluca Laitempergher plays a major role in bringing the viewer into the atmosphere of the places and the times represented in the film: one could cite, as an example, the scene of the gypsy dances during the Night of Saint Elia in the Transylvanian village of Borșa (where the army stops for a day before leaving for the front again) or, at the film’s halfway mark, that of the choral chants sung by the prisoners of the Red Army. Interspersed throughout the film, among other things, are precious moments of suspense, where the voice of the narrator stops and the images and the score alone invite the viewer to reflect and, perhaps, to dream. Overall, the narrative project of Once More Unto the Breach works well — the documentary images, supported by Maria Fantastica Valmori’s excellent editing work, successfully tell a probable story with great respect and sensitivity, while gesturing at the present, too. Occasionally, indeed, the film shows a few colour images of today’s Ukraine. These transitions appear fluid and pertinent, and do not distract the viewer's attention from the main narrative.
Once More Unto the Breach is produced by Claudio Giapponesi for Bologna company Kiné, in association with Istituto Luce Cinecittà. The latter is also handling the distribution of the film in Italian cinemas, planned for October.
(Translated from Italian)
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.