Spike Lee’s WWII Epic Miracle at St. Anna


You’ve got to hand it to Spike Lee for managing to secure the financing for this big-budget, three-hour World War II epic, performed largely in Italian and German with English subtitles, and lacking so much as a single marquee name in the cast. But as Orson Welles wisely cautioned: The enemy of art is the absence of limitations. Adapted by James McBride from his own novel about the African-American “buffalo soldiers” who served bravely—and largely anonymously—for the U.S. during the Second World War, Miracle at St. Anna begins with a clunky 1980s prologue, eventually flashes back to the war, and then further flashes back within those flashbacks, all to tell the ultimately slight story of four soldiers from the all-black 92nd Infantry Division who find themselves stranded behind enemy lines. There, the men rescue a young Italian boy trapped in the rubble, and take shelter with a family of chatty, gesticulating, tea-leaf-reading villagers. At which point, you may begin to wonder if Lee really initiated this project or if it only fell into his hands after Roberto Benigni proved unavailable. The rest of the movie is piled to the rafters with cutesy-kid antics and even a mythical peasant hero named the Great Butterfly. Mostly, though, our heroes cool their heels for what must only be a few days, but feels like months.

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