An impeccably lensed but tediously old-fashioned adaptation of a novel about two generations of Italian soldiers stationed in Yugoslavia’s Istrian peninsula, “The Border” looks like ripe material for European TV airings and little else.
Veteran TV helmer Franco Giraldi, who comes from the region around Italy’s Slovenian border, has little to say about the ethnic tension in Istria, where many Italians have lived through generations of shifting borders and changing empires, except to remind audiences that a problem exists. A working knowledge of history and geography is not needed to follow the story, but will certainly help anyone wanting to tune in to film’s vague political message.
In 1941, Mussolini’s army is occupying the land when Franco (Marco Leonardi), a likable young fascist soldier on convalescence leave, returns to the island off the Dalmatian coast where he was born. Franco, who speaks Croatian, feels torn between his Italian origins and his sympathy for the natives, including children who sabotage the Italian army and his friend, the wise old Simeone (Omero Antonutti).
Simeone tells him the story of Emidio Orlich (Raoul Bova), another native son who died in World War I when the Austro-Hungarians were occupying the war-torn area of Galizia. The dashing young officer, disobeying orders from his gentleman commander (Giancarlo Giannini), abandons his loyalty to Austria and makes a fatal attempt to desert to the Italian side.
Italy’s much-touted new heartthrob Bova, who is an Errol Flynn look-alike in a period uniform, plays Emidio coldly, and the young officer’s tragic gesture is hard to evaluate one way or the other. His romance with a willing young Croatian widow (Vesna Tominac) is embarrassingly overblown, while his shift in political alliance, presumably the heart of the story, has little emotional impact.
Much more appealing is Leonardi as the WWII soldier, whose flirtation with a fascist officer played by Claudia Pandolfi remains thankfully platonic. Film ends with Leonardi’s character having to confront his own loyalties, but finale is so delicate it lacks the emotional punch that would have driven home the point.
Editor Antonio Siciliano interweaves the two stories flawlessly, while Giraldi has a simple way of telling a story that is extremely clear and pleasant. Cristiano Pogany’s lensing is transparent and inviting, whether he’s filming the blue Adriatic sea or a muddy battlefield. Luis Bacalov’s mellifluous score full of violins tends to reinforce the film’s old-fashioned TV atmosphere.