Perhaps on paper it was apparent why Mario Monicelli, at 91 the last grand old man of Italian cinema still working, threw his energies into “The Roses of the Desert,” but the results are blandly inconsequential. Certainly the bittersweet camaraderie of a group of basically decent fellows fits his m.o., but this tale of an Italian medical unit in Libya during WWII lacks the maestro’s comic touch and fails to meld episodic sequences into a meaningful whole. Pic is essentially a late curio solely for completists; local biz has been disappointing.
It’s summer 1940, and there’s plenty of time for the medics in North Africa to meet the natives and snap pictures for the scrapbook. But once the fighting nears, the gentlemanly Major Strucchi (Alessandro Haber) and his men have to contend with mad generals and nasty Germans as well as a loquacious friar (Michele Placido) and their own wounded. There’s barely a mention of fascism, no real discussion of the meaning of the war, and nothing to connect it with the current desert war. Oddly sped-up sequences are perplexing, while post-production credits, including dubbing, feel rushed.