Saturday, 8 February 2014

The Battle Of Sinai

War is hell, a wise General once wrote. Maybe he’d seen this movie.

Set during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, The Battle Of Sinai (1969) features a small patrol of Israeli soldiers who, after a skirmish with the enemy, become stranded in the desert. While walking back to their lines, they stumble upon an Egyptian missile base and – stirred by patriotic duty – resolve to launch a daring raid.

That summary makes the film sound like a rip-roaring tale of action, adventure and heroism, but there’s a huge hole at its centre. Put simply, this is a war movie with a conspicuous absence of…er, war.

That means no tank battles; no aerial dogfights; no bayonet charges; hardly even a cross word, in fact. Instead, there are interminable longeurs as our heroes drive peacefully through the desert.

One rare moment of action sees their jeep wrecked, but that’s just a prelude to more joyless scenes as the group trudge wearily across the featureless Sinai desert.

Remember that famous scene in Lawrence of Arabia, where a single shot shows Omar Sharif slowly riding a camel towards the camera for five minutes? Just imagine that scene lasting an hour and thirty minutes, and you’ll begin to get some sense of how it feels to watch this film.

If the director is trying to convey the desperation of being lost in a vast expanse of nothingness, then hats off to him. That’ll certainly be the sensation of anyone trying to sit through this nonsense.

Make no mistake: The Battle of Sinai is a grimly boring film; one you don’t so much watch as endure. The great irony is that a film about the Six Day War – one of the shortest conflicts in history – should feel so interminably long.

The only real moment of interest occurs following a skirmish with the enemy, when our heroes call in a helicopter to evacuate their wounded buddy. But wait! One of the Egyptians isn’t dead yet, and he unleashed a machine gun at the landed chopper which (and Exploding Helicopter wouldn’t be writing this if it didn’t) quickly becomes a casualty of war.

Artistic merit

Helicopters should ideally blow up mid-flight, so marks are deducted for exploding a stationary one. However, it is a very realistic-looking chopper and it produces a lovely, rich, consuming fireball.

The Israelis watch the smoke clear from the wreckage of the wrecked whirlybird in complete silence. Why? Are they reverently contemplating the sight of an exploding helicopter? Is it a bare-faced art house ‘moment’ manufactured to stir our emotions? Are they slowly nodding off because they’re bored too? Who knows? And really, by this point, who cares?

Exploding helicopter innovation

There’s no great innovation here, but in fairness helicopter explosion was a young art form in 1969 and filmmakers were still establishing the parameters of the genre. Director Maurizio Lucidi should be heralded for helping to lay the foundations on which later directors would ply their trade.

Do passengers survive?

Yes, but – typically for this film – in an utterly unexciting way. Two medical nurses manage to undramatically disembark from the chopper before it’s shot up by the Egyptian. Big wow.

Positives

In a film which rarely troubles the contented snoozing of its audience, the raid on the missile base is decently staged. It’s about the only moment where it’s actually clear what is happening to who and why.

Negatives

The film ends with a narrated epilogue which states that war never solves problems, and urges Jews and Arabs to bury their differences and fight their common enemy: the desert.

Exploding Helicopter doesn’t really follow world events, but does anyone know how that one’s going?

Favourite quote

Nothing sums up the experience of watching this film more pithily than when one character wearily exclaims: “Two hours...two hours have passed in this bloody war.”

Interesting fact

Guess who made this film about a bunch of impossibly tough soldiers who, hopelessly outnumbered, refuse to back down and snatch a victory against the odds within a week? A group of Italians.

No, that wasn’t a typo. This war movie was indeed made by people whose own national army are literally world famous as serial retreaters and champions of capitulation. (Remember the old school joke about the Italian tank with five gears: one forward and four reverse?) Most certainly, a case of art not imitating life.

Review by: Jafo

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