At once the most moving and the most horrifying of Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi’s painstaking archival montages, “Oh! Uomo” completes their trilogy on World War I (preceded by “Prisoners of the War” and “On Every Peak is Peace”). It examines the war’s price in human suffering and its ravaging effects on children and mutilated soldiers. Few will be able to watch without cringing or turning away. Comparisons with the current war are inevitablee, but its topicality will do little to increase the marginal audiences the film is likely to attract at festivals and special screenings.
Silent except for Luis Agudo’s percussion accompaniment and an anguishing, wordless solo by Giovanna Marini, the film mounts to almost unbearable intensity in its images of horror.
Title comes from the writings of Leonardo Da Vinci, who believed that every terrifying image of war should be shown so that men might realize the suffering they inflict on one another. This the film certainly does, and its viewing would give the most war-mongering general pause.
Opening images show the Italians parading their armies and aircraft before they invade Ethiopia. The filmmakers retouch the archival footage, slowing it down, zooming in and out or printing it in ghostly, negative images. Then the bodies of starving, deformed children appear.
The horror peaks in a lengthy sequence of images filmed by medical personnel showing soldiers with parts of their faces blown away, followed by the no less stomach-churning results of reconstructive plastic surgery.
Leonardo is remembered in a fascinating view of an orthopedic surgeon sculpting a prosthesis in front of an anatomic drawing of a human leg. The children’s and soldiers’ expressions are unforgettable.