El Alamein: Line of Fire is an Italian war film that depicts the Italian point of view in the pivotal Battle of El Alamein in the fall of 1942. The time period covered is early October to about 8 November 1942. Overall, this film was better than I expected but it has a rather mixed quality to it. The non-combat scenes that portray the grimy quality of life in the front-line trenches are excellent and the character development is very good, but the combat scenes are sub-par.
El Alamein follows the standard war film conceit: the small unit drama. In this case, the unit is a company-size detachment in the 27th Infantry Regiment, 17th "Pavia" Division, stationed at the extreme south of the Axis line next to the Qattara Depression. The main characters are Lieutenant Fiori, Sergeant Rizzo and the new-comer, Private Serta. The first half of the film involves the tedium and suffering of static warfare in the desert, particularly with the emphasis on poor supplies of water and food. There are several minor episodes in this phase of the film which are used to "flesh out" the main characters, with the most interesting being Sergeant Rizzo and Serta going into the Qattara Depression to look for a lost Bersaglieri patrol. Uniforms, small arms and kit used in the film are authentic, but not quite as comprehensive as what was used in the better "Captain Corelli's Mandolin." The director also makes great effort to depict the utter lack of concern of Mussolini and the Italian generals for their troops at the frontline, including sending exhortations to "fight or die" instead of sending potable water. On the other hand, I was glad that the director chose to omit any type of conflict or tension within the unit, which so often is used to unrealistically depict life in combat units. The soldiers get along fairly well and Private Serta's adaptation to the front is fairly smooth, unlike other trashy films like "Platoon" that emphasize internal discord. Overall, this first half of the film is probably the best and compares well with other foreign war films, such as the Finnish "Ambush."
Once the British attack begins on 23rd October - about halfway through the film - the quality starts to decline a bit. Obviously, the film did not have a big budget and it is difficult to depict a battle that involved over 300,000 troops without spending some. Furthermore, the film becomes somewhat unhistorical as far as depicting the British attacks - British tanks (actually modern M60 tanks) are shown driving on line toward the Italian positions with headlights on! Nor do the Italian positions have much in the way of AT mines or AT guns in support (in fact, the Italians had 47mm AT guns and artillery supporting all the frontline positions), so the British just roll fight over them. Our boys from the "Pavia" are sent to reinforce the "Folgore" parachute division and suffer about 50% losses, but hold. In reality, these were diversionary attacks while the main British attack was to the north. Indeed, the "Pavia" division saw less action at El Alamein than most Axis units.
The end comes rather quickly once the British breakthrough in the north. Rommel and the Afrika Korps retreat westward, leaving the Italians to fend for themselves (the Germans are shown very little, only yelling "you're all going to die" as they drive by them). The men of Pavia begin walking westward in the desert, but soon all of the company is captured except for LT Fiori, Rizzo and Serta. At this point, once it becomes clear that they cannot elude the British and that their chances for survival in the desert are nil, the viewer will wonder why these characters would chose to press on. Indeed, it appears that one motive of this film was to portray the Italian soldier in the Second World War as more stalwart and resolute than popularly imagined. However, the reality is that the majority of the Italians who fought at El Alamein were captured and thousands sought out the British rather than die in the desert.
Aside from lack of proper heavy weapons in the film (a British aircraft is shown once), the other problem with the film is the omission of any substantial role for either the Germans or the British. This omission induces a "Robinson Crusoe" quality to the film, where you almost feel that these men are marooned in the desert with no friends or foes. In actuality, Rommel had inter-mixed German and Italian units at El Alamein to "stiffen" the weaker Italian formations. Instead, we only get a glimpse of retreating Germans and it is highly unfavorable. The British are shown only as casualties on the ground, or in silhouette as attackers in the night, but we are never shown any POWs or close-interaction, as in "Saving Private Ryan." Overall, this film is a commendable effort and worth viewing to gain Italian perspectives, but like many in this genre, it has sacrificed realism due to a combination of budget constraints and nationalistic conceits.