Lion of the Desert

1980

Biography / Drama / History / War

0
IMDb Rating 8.4 10 13585

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Synopsis


Uploaded By: FREEMAN

Cast

Oliver Reed as Gen. Rodolfo Graziani
Anthony Quinn as Omar Mukhtar
Rod Steiger as Benito Mussolini
John Gielgud as Sharif El Gariani

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by vernetto 7 / 10

Still banned in Italy

The movie, although not a masterpiece, is quite realistic and historically accurate, actually it shows only a very small part of the ruthless brutality used by General Graziani against the civilian population. Some 120.000 civilians were killed in concentration camps in the attempt to quench the resistance. Graziani served only 2 years imprisonment for his crimes after the fall of Fascism, and later became honorary president of the (legal) neo-fascist party. This movie is still banned in Italy, and still recently the Italian Secret Services have prevented its official projection. The majority of Italians, even the anti-fascists, are still persuaded that our troops went to Lybia to build roads hospitals and bridges. It should not surprise that recently the former Prime Minister Berlusconi said that Mussolini never did any harm to anybody - probably not considering some hundred thousands Lybians casualties. Italians love to imagine their soldiers fraternizing with the locals and helping farmers in the fields - sadly the reality of war is quite different.

Reviewed by max-vernon 10 / 10

Libyan resistance hero Omar Mukhtar leads a guerrilla campaign against Italian colonisers.

I came across my video copy of this film in 1995. I was surprised that I had never heard of the film as it uses such star actors as Quinn, Gielgud, Papas, Steiger and Oliver Reed. It is the only copy I have ever come across in UK shops. To the best of my knowledge, it has never been shown in the UK on either terrestrial or satellite TV. The reason for this remains a complete mystery to me. It may be because it was financed by Gaddafi who has been the subject of international embargos for many years.

The Arab-American Moustapha Akkad produced and directed the film in Libya with Gaddafi's full support. The film is reasonably accurate and, in my opinion, fair and balanced. Anthony Quinn had a long and distinguished career playing 'ethnic types' and his portrayal of Omar Mukhtar is undoubtedly one of his finest performances. Omar in the film is probably much more of an action man than the real Mukhtar who was more of a strategist than a fighter. Or so I was informed whilst on holiday in Tunisia. The film is (understandably) one of the most famous in the Arab world, dealing as it does with Arab suffering under recent European colonialism.

Akkad uses original black and white archive film to underpin its historical authenticity. At the start to set the scene of the Italian conquest of Libya from Turkey in 1911. In the middle to show an aerial view of the concentration camps built by the Italians and also the barbed wire 'Hadrian's Wall' built along the Egyptian border. Both these strategies were intended to cut off Mukhtar from his supply sources. At the end of the film there are still photos of the real Mukhtar in chains and also of the main Italian protagonists we see in the film.

Rod Steiger blusters through his role as Mussolini, the fascist dictator who wants to send Italian colonists to a peaceful Libya, an ambition being thwarted by Omar Mukhtar's stubborn 20-year long armed resistance. Oliver Reed plays a suitably ruthless General Graziani, the man charged with crushing Mukhtar. But his character is no two-dimensional brute.There is a very engaging private dialogue between himself and the captive Mukhtar. The two men debate historic claims to Libyan soil, with Graziani pointing out that the Romans were there before the Arabs. Reed gives a very controlled performance, one of his best.

The film is very balanced in its portrayal of the Italians. On the one hand we see some terrible reprisals-shootings and hangings-against civilians. On the other hand we have two sympathetic Italian officers whose conscience is afflicted by by the war they are forced to wage. The Raf Vallone character is particularly sympathetic- very courteous, generous and kind to the captive Mukhtar. This is history telling at its best. Italian fascists were not all the same. Individuals matter. Likewise, the Italian officer chosen to defend Omar at his trial argues that Mukhtar never committed treason against the Italian state because he never accepted it rule.

On the Arab side we have John Gielgud playing the high-ranking Sharif el-Gariani character who is sent to ask Omar to end his struggle. Some Arabs were willing to collaborate with an Italian rule which was helping to modernise their country. There is a nice reference to the fact that 'the League of Nations will not help you', highlighting the limitations of this predecessor of the UN. Come to think of it, things have not changed very much!

The action scenes are spectacular, with some inspiring ambushes by the insurgents against the Italian forces. The film credits Graziani (wrongly?) with being the first general to bring tanks into the desert. The Italian assault on the oasis town of Kufra is a theatrical masterpiece. Some viewers may think that all this is probably a bit over the top. It probably is but it certainly boosts the film's entertainment level. In fact, the film could have shown Italian planes dropping poison gas bombs as they did in Abyssinia a few years later. In his biography of Mussolini, the eminent historian Denis Mack Smith maintains that this did happen in Libya.

The music is very effective and the film is emotionally charged throughout, especially during the hanging scenes. The Omar Mukhtar character is accorded a great deal of dignity and honour. The film is hagiography but so are 'Spartacus', 'Ben-Hur', 'El Cid' and scores of other epics. Does this make the film a piece of Arab propaganda? Yes and no. The film emphasises the central role of Islam in giving Omar the inner strength to continue his fight. It tells an historical tale with a great deal of accuracy but it is also a feature film which aims to entertain. In that respect it is no different to any Hollywood blockbuster about the Alamo or Pearl Harbor. In my opinion it is superior to many such blockbusters. It's just that white Caucasians have to get used to being the bad guys for a change.

Gaddafi is now coming in from the cold and opening up his country to tourism. I can only hope that this will result in the film becoming more widely available and better-known in the UK. 'Lion of the Desert' is an excellent historical epic which tells one side of the story. Some historians would argue that Mukhtar's defeat and death paved the way for the enlightened rule of Italo Balbo who governed a 'pacified' Libya after 1934 with few executions and much building of infrastructure. I would not accept this view as all imperialisms are self-justifying and ultimately unacceptable.

Reviewed by Nazi_Fighter_David 9 / 10

An exciting tapestry of history coming alive under the great direction of Mustapha Al-Akkad...

"Lion of the Desert" stars Anthony Quinn as the real-life Beduin Leader Omar Mukhtar who fights with pride and courage, rage and anger Mussolini's invading troops in the Libyan Desert...

Quinn (strong, confident, never broken) plays the charismatic Islamic Libyan fighter who commits himself to a lifetime war against Italian Colonialism: "We have stood against you for 20 years and with the help of God we will stay with you till your end!"

Enraged by the 20-year war carried on by Beduin patriots opposed to the Italian occupation, the arrogant Mussolini (Rod Steiger) - the first of Europe's fascist dictators - orders his new military governor the ruthless Rodolfo Graziani (Oliver Reed) to crush and silence the Beduin rebellion by "whatever means" and capture their great leader Omar Mukhtar...

Mukhtar is forced to face his conviction and the power of Italy at its glorious height...

The film is based on the life of a brave resistance leader, a teacher of the Quran by profession... Mukhtar is a cunning warrior who masterminded the Libyan resistance... He stood against tyranny and oppression, and with the fire of his wisdom, he rallied his countrymen to liberation...

The film depicts the cruelty of Graziani's coward acts: the massive killing rampage in Kufra... We watch the invaders attacking with war-planes, tanks, cannons and machine-guns the poor village, but we also see a fascinating portrayal of the heroic Libyan forces fighting the mighty Italian artillery with old rusted rifles, giving their life for their land and their convictions...

Syrian director Mustapha Al-Akkad captures the horrific methods of the Italian army holding the helpless population in concentration camps; isolating the warriors from their families; setting fire to their fields; closing their wells; raping their women; destroying their homes; controlling the country by hanging old men and women; shooting innocent civilians, and specially the capture of the 'Old Lion', a natural fighter against 'educated' officers...

With great special effects, excellent action sequences and with the splendor of the Sahara Desert, Akkad's motion picture combines history with spectacle to create a moving drama of heroism and commitment...

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