In my essay, I examine Mario Monicelli’s La Grande Guerra, in order to verify if its comic and anti-heroic perspective really leads to a new concept of WWI. I first retrace the director’s previous filmography, where the characters, genres and patterns which will recur in La Grande Guerra originally take shape. I then reconstruct the movie’s genesis, focusing on the sources the screenwriters refer to: not only WWI movies and memories, such as Kubrick’s Paths of Glory and Lussu’s Un anno sull’Altipiano, but also, quite unexpectedly, La vita militare by De Amicis.
On this basis, I analyse the representation of the war, in its figurative and narrative elements. In many senses, it’s a war seen from the ground, and indeed the scenography and script take inspiration from the soldiers’ pictures of the front and their military songs. In this realistic context, Monicelli develops the plot of two cowardly privates, from a poor, undisciplined background, who ultimately identify with their nation enough to sacrifice themselves for their compatriots.
The purpose of highlighting the unacknowledged war contribution of the mass, however, is somehow contradicted by the army’s image. The comic and anti-heroic aspects, indeed, concern only the low-ranked soldiers, while the Command is represented in a sentimental way. In this respect, Monicelli confirms a rhetoric coming from De Amicis, and later inherited by Fascism: the army as an image of a model society, where North and South, rich and poor, educated and illiterate unite, and where everyone deserves his hierarchical rank.