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A Czech Red Badge of Courage in the Western Desert
on 13 September 2009
I hadn't heard of this film and I was pleasantly suprised. The budget is undoubtedly small, and the performances are subtle and understated. The script quite clearly acknowledges its debt to The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (made into a great war film by John Huston and starring Audie Murphy) and translates the action from the American Civil War to the Western Desert in 1941. I didn't even know Czech soldiers served here. The cast of recruits and the process of turning nervous young men into soldiers is well depicted: the additional tensions of being soldiers from a country occupied by the Nazis is especially poignant. The director doesn't shy away from addressing collaboration and anti-semitism. The core tale of a young soldier who struggles to contain his fear is timeless but did not seem hackneyed here.
I enjoyed the depiction of the Western Desert: loads of flies, British battledress that makes you itch to look at it, the scarcity of water, weapons that are authentic (Brens, Thompsons Lee-Enfields), a polyglot Allied army, awful food, basting heat...It was interesting to see an Italian enemy too, who avoid clichés and fight effectively. The combat is messy, clumsy, brief, manic and disorientating, which makes for awkward cinema, but is, I suspect, more authentic.
Genuinely original depiction of a forgotten story of WW2.