The Waning Years of WWII in Last Letters From Monte Rosa

Last Letters From Monte Rosa, we're told in an introductory segment, is based on a recently discovered bag of missives written by German and Italian soldiers during the waning years of World War II. But set aside the Eastwoodian framing device—the need for proof of authenticity in a fictional work went out with the Victorian novel—and Ari Taub's film is a rich tale of moral complexity tinged with an invitingly surrealist air. Opening in a nighttime German camp in Italy as the weary soldiers complain in the fog, Taub's smoky, grainy image suggests a scene not so much re-created as hallucinated into life. Undermanned, the Germans are joined by a reinforcement of Italian troops whom they treat with haughty scorn; the Italians in turn resent the Germans for pillaging rations from their native land. Tensions reach a head first in a Twistian "Can I have some more?" moment over the apportioning of rations and later during an encounter with armed Italian partisans whose cause elicits the sympathy of many of their jaded countrymen soldiers. There are as many viewpoints here as there are characters, but Taub avoids the temptation to make his film stand in for anything like the whole of war, keeping things ground-level and human-scale right through to the movie's God-denying last-stand finale.

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