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Film / El Alamein: The Line of Fire

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El Alamein: The Line of Fire (2002) is an Italian film directed by Enzo Monteleone, set during World War II and starring Paolo Briguglia, Emilio Solfrizzi and Pierfrancesco Favino. It takes place during the Battle of El Alamein, and follows a group of Italian soldiers from the Pavia division, which is deployed in the south sector of the line, close to the Qattara Depression. A new soldier, Private Serra, arrives on the front line full of enthusiasm. He soon finds out that life on the front line is much more horrible than he had learned.

This film provides examples of:

  • Badass Army: Both the Italians and the British are shown to be this. British troops can go in places not even the Bedouins dare to go, and their artillery is formidable. The Italians, on the other hand, not only are still fighting against such a superior enemy, but repelled their initial attack.
    • Subverted by the Afrika Korps, of all people: not only they barely show up, but the only things we know for certain about them in the film is that some of them still have trucks to retreat with, the British broke through them, and they're still blaming the Italians for the defeat.
  • Book Ends: The film starts and ends with Serra riding a bike in the desert.
  • Colonel Badass: Averted. The one colonel we see during the retreat had ordered his guards to keep people outside of a bomb shelter (resulting in at least one guard staying exposed to a bombing raid and getting trampled by Fiore's platoon, who ignores his orders), and later acts callously to Fiore and his men, leaving them to fend for themselves in the desert.
  • Crossing the Desert: The soldiers have to retreat after the Allies have broken through the entire El Alamein line. Unfortunately, there's no vehicles to drive them off. The ones which are driving away have no space for Fiore's platoon. They actually manage to get a truck at a medic post, but when they enter a shelter because of an airstrike, the truck itself is destroyed.
    • Rizzo and Serra are sent by Lieutenant Fiore to the Qattara Depression to check what happened to an outpost which stopped responding to the command. Rizzo comments that the patrol doesn't make sense because nobody would head for the Depression, not even Bedouins. When they arrive, they find out that the outpost's garrison is dead, maybe killed by the English, who Rizzo says are "more bedouin than the Bedouins".
  • Death from Above: British artillery and bomber aircrafts.
  • Desert Warfare: The film takes place during the North African campaign, one of the most famous examples of this trope.
  • Downer Ending: Serra, Rizzo and Fiore find a working bike, but Fiore is completely exhausted and tells Rizzo to go with Serra. But Rizzo decides to stay with Fiore, and tells Serra to just go and find some transport to get them, but it's obvious they're not going to make it.
  • Driven to Suicide: The unnamed general Fiore and his men encounter during the retreat kills himself after burying his aide.
  • Eye Scream: One of the soldiers during the British attack is hit in the eye.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The Second Battle of El-Alamein notoriously ended with a defeat of the Axis forces. So, everybody can guess that the Italians are not going to win the day. History buffs of the World War II's Desert Campaign would also probably know that the Pavia division was completely destroyed during the subsequent retreat and can therefore figure out that the film is not going to end well for its protagonists.
  • Hollywood Mirage: Averted. When Rizzo and Serra enter the Qattara Depression for the aforementioned patrol, they only see a 'Fata Morgana' mirage in the distance.
  • Infinite Supplies: Averted: the Italian troops have little food, fuel munitions, medicines, and water (and what water they get is polluted). The British tend to give this impression with their casual artillery salvoes and every single soldier being loaded with food, but the soldiers realize it's just because they're near their supply bases, so their supplies have a much shorter way to the front.
    • To better drive home the point, lieutenant Fiore shouts this to the unfortunate driver of a truck as he's confiscating him Mussolini's horse to eat it (they were hungry).
  • Molotov Cocktail: Mentioned to have been used to stop the British first attack during the battle.
  • Mood Whiplash: Thrice:
  • Naïve Newcomer: Serra is this when he arrives at El Alamein. He soon changes his view upon what war is.
  • Properly Paranoid: According to Rizzo, crossing the Qattara Depression is impossible, and he says just that when he gets sent to check on an outpost there due the high command fearing an infiltration from there. Turns out that a British patrol did cross the Depression, reached the outpost and killed the garrison.
  • Rule #1: On Serra's arrival, Rizzo explains him a few rules of survival. Among them are 'don't complain about dysentery', 'one ration per evening (sand and rice)' and 'cigarettes, as many as you want'.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: When Rizzo and Serra return from their patrol, they find out Private De Vita has becomed this because of the massive Allied preemptive bombing on the Axis lines, for the ground troops. De Vita says that "everything is broken" and starts literally hammering on boxes to fix them. He finally snaps during the British attack, where he steps out of his foxhole and walks away into the dust and smoke and into certain death.
  • Sole Survivor: The platoon which had formed during the retreat is captured by the British while they were sleeping at a graveyard. Only Pvt. Serra, Sgt. Rizzo and Lt. Fiore remain, because they were sleeping outside of the graveyard, and Rizzo's moral code was 'rather die than be captured'.
  • Tanks, but No Tanks: Very much so.
  • Thirsty Desert: Of course, it's set in the North African front. Especially invoked by Serra after the big Allied attack. There's no life or anything, according to Serra even the troops themselves are almost forsaken by their own command.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The protagonists are from the Pavia division, but they are stationed at Naqb Rala (the most southern section of the line before the Qattara Depression), while in reality the Folgore paratroopers were stationed there, while Pavia was higher up.
    • The director actually made a documentary called (I Ragazzi Di El Alamein) (The Boys Of El Alamein), where several Italian veterans of the Battle of El Alamein are interviewed. The film itself, before the credits, has a summary of the battle, with the numbers of dead, wounded and captured, and also explains that three Italian divisions where completely wiped out during the retreat.
  • War Is Glorious: Serra joins the army because he believes this. He's disabused of this notion before the fifth minute of the movie, well before the actual battle.
  • War Is Hell: The film manages to drive this point home before anyone in the cast dies, by showing the Bersagliere happy for successfully scavenging a quarter litre of fuel, the sight of Fiore's command post, the insistence on Serra's canteen of pure water (extremely rare on the frontlines) and the corporal so used to artillery he can tell when the shells are coming down on him. Then the corporal shouts at Serra to take cover because an artillery salvo is about to hit them, and gets disintegrated when a shell hits his head.
    • About one hour in the movie, we are shown a small part of the Battle of El Alamein. The scene is absolutely terrifying.
    • The scene at the field hospital.
  • White Stallion: Mussolini's horse, that the soldiers almost eat.
  • With This Herring: In one scene the troops receive two trucks of supplies (which were heading for the coast, but took a completely wrong direction), one full of shoe polish, and the other carrying Mussolini's personal horse, for the great parade of the arrival to Alexandria. Apparently Mussolini doesn't understand that they're never going to arrive to Alexandria.