Packing their rifles in a roughshod station wagon, the trio drive off to adventure. They meet a first setback when their gamekeeper contact fails to materialize. Persuading his sullen daughter, Rada (Paraskeva Djukelova), to be their guide instead, they enjoy a few moments of idyllic wilderness before the pilot (a very believable Antonio Catania) is seriously wounded by an unseen rifleman. At this point film finally takes off in a nightmarish atmosphere of escalating danger.
In town, they rush the pilot to a hospital, which starts to fill up with silent, sad-faced refugees as bombs and machine-gun fire make the streets impassable. They are lucky to bivouac on the top floor of a hellish hotel, ducking bullets from a sniper across the street and easing the pilot’s pain with a bottle of cheap liquor.
As leader of the expedition, Ghini acts tough but is given nothing to do by the script. The young brother, played with airhead abandon by “Stealing Beauty’s” Roberto Zibetti, temporarily complicates matters by following Rada to what seems to be a Croatian war room, though film is as careful as the U.N. not to make it clear who’s shooting at whom.
Bulgarian thesp Djukelova, playing Rada with prickly glumness, is stiff in the film’s best role. Of mixed Serbo-Croatian origin, Rada is a bore of a symbol, and she becomes human only when planning an escape for the Italians and helping them make a desperate race for the airport, dodging missiles.
Though deliberately uninformative about the hows and whys of Serbo-Croatian fratricide, pic is a far cry from a Cannon-style exploitation film. Its attitude toward violence and atrocities is properly horrified, expressing Italians’ role in the war as self-important, scandalized observers.
This is underlined in a frame story in which Italian sportswriter Leo Gullotta, also trapped in Yugoslavia by the war but not as clueless, recounts the inglorious and basically inconsequential tale of the three hunters, a true footnote to history. Award-winning director Zaccaro (“Article 2,” “Kalkstein”) dips into the archives one last time to end with a chilling coda about a real-life sniper’s trial.
Lensed in Bulgaria on a modest budget, “The Gamebag” makes the most out of a few tanks, a few missiles and a lot of extras. Cinematographer Blasco Giurato uses dark, brooding forest colors throughout, suggesting the savagery of the war. Less on target is Pino Donaggio’s score, which in moments of greatest tension sounds bizarrely like something out of a 1950s sci-fi film.