The Profession of Arms

2001 [ITALIAN]

Drama / History / War

IMDb Rating 7 10 1499

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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by petra_ste 7 / 10

Soldier of fortune

Truffaut famously commented on the difficulty of making a truly anti-war movie: war, he argued, is inherently cinematic and will therefore look rousing and compelling on screen. A few films succeed, though: some are masterpieces like Paths of Glory and Kagemusha, others interesting smaller movies like this one.

Elegantly shot and moving with a slow, deliberate pace, Il Mestiere delle Armi is set in 16th century Italy and follows Giovanni de' Medici (a very fine Christo Jivkov), leader of the papal army fighting against imperial forces.

The real power of the film lies in its somber, understated tone. Armies roam around a grimy, foggy country, with a growing sense of dread. Fights are sparse, coming in random sudden bursts and leaving ugly results behind them.

The main fight director Olmi focuses on is the one against death: as several characters in Seven Samurai, Giovanni is wounded by firearms, the same weapons which would eventually make men like him obsolete, and, in the most heroic act seen in the movie, faces with quiet dignity his end.


Reviewed by silviopellerani 7 / 10

A very cult movie back to the old Olmi's films

If you are looking for a relaxing and commercial film don't see this one. In my case it took me 20 minutes to get deeply involved in the plot and the film atmosphere. Is a nice biographic story of an arm maker in the Italian middle age. The countryside (shot in Romania and Bulgaria) is giantly underlined by Ermanno Olmi's hand and all the characters were completely well represented by the actors.

Either you like the plot or not but certainly you will notice the direction of still one of the MOST important Italian directors nowadays.

Rating: 7/10

Reviewed by Asa_Nisi_Masa2 10 / 10

Olmi gets under the skin of the Renaissance and brings it to life for us

Giovanni Dé Medici was the ultimate Renaissance "condottiere" (military commander), Captain of the Pope's Army, dubbed "Giovanni of the Black Bands". He was truly fierce, ruthless and proud, but relentlessly audacious on the battlefield. Yet he was also aristocratic, charming, articulate, witty, urbane, and a libertine off the battlefield. Furthermore, as a soldier he was the antithesis of a Machiavellian, and rejected the idea that war was a politician's game. Giovanni Dè Medici may have been cruel, but no one could accuse him of cowardice. In the end, dying from a gun-shot wound at the youthful age of 28, he was also a victim of a very different, new and subtler form of warfare. Olmi's amazing, award-winning movie is set in the last few weeks of the life of Giovanni "dalle Bande Nere", played very convincingly by Bulgarian actor Hristo Jivkov. The movie also features other notable historic figures of the Renaissance, such as Pietro Aretino (the ultimate Renaissance man of letters) and the German army veteran Georg von Frundsberg. As one critic put it, it isn't so much a historic movie, as an "intimate confession from the most visceral folds of history".

The story starts from the end, with Giovanni Dè Medici's funeral. It then goes back to the cause of his death, dating a few months earlier, in the autumn of 1526, when the Imperial Army of German Lutheran soldiers led by von Frundsberg are travelling through Italy from the North. The narrating Pietro Aretino informs us that these "noble and beautiful people" are on their way to invade and punish Rome, following an act of betrayal on the Pope's part. Aware that the Germans are at a military disadvantage, Dè Medici uses quick, sudden ambushes with his fire-armed cavalry. But as an act of ultimate individualism, the Marquis of Mantua, Federico Gonzaga welcomes the Lutheran troops through his fortified gates at Curtatone. He thus allows them easy access to the papal states in order to save his own territory. Meanwhile, just a few hours later, Federico Gonzaga denies access to Giovanni and his Papal troops! This beautifully illustrates the way that the notion of national solidarity simply did not exist among different Italian Duchies and kingdoms.

To add insult to injury, Alfonso D'Este, Duke of Ferrara gives some sophisticated pieces of artillery to the Germans in exchange for von Frundsberg's daughter's hand. Yet Giovanni still manages to catch up with the Germans, despite the fact they are now no longer militarily at such a disadvantage. Meanwhile, the young Medici Captain keeps asking the Pope for additional troops through his wife Maria, who mediates. But all that the Pontiff is willing to do is send the leader of his army his blessings!

Familiar Olmi themes surface. While Olmi's magnificent movie Il Posto (1961) was about human beings as insignificant clogs in the faceless machine of a typical corporation, Il Mestiere is about man's vain individual efforts within the "faceless machine" that is history and fate. But even while being aware that he will probably be defeated, Giovanni's determination to stop the Germans survives. Ultimately, his philosophy is the opposite of a Machiavellian one: actions, even when completely useless, are still important for what they stand for. When Giovanni is shot in the leg in a final skirmish with the Germans, he is taken to the D'Este Palace in Ferrara to have his leg dressed and then later amputated. The final scenes of Giovanni lying in his sick chamber are cinematically flawless, spectacular and subtle. For the first time in his life, he is truly helpless, often in a fevered state, languishing in those magnificently frescoed interiors painted in the style of High Renaissance art. The concept of human beings always dying alone - even when they die young and are supervised by servants and medics - is poignantly conveyed.

Rather than being chockful of the spectacular battle scenes we have come to expect from lavish historical movies, Il Mestiere is mostly a meditative and quiet war movie. Olmi's flick is outstanding at bringing across the nitty gritty of life as a Renaissance soldier. Hypnotic images of ghostly soldiers on horseback and on foot, trudging through the mist, or tending to their weapons daily, also gives a tangible sense of what happened "in between" those battle, which took up maybe only about 10% of a soldier's time. The grim, damp, relentlessly cold weather, the extreme discomfort of constantly wearing an armour and the way that battles were often sudden, fast and deadly is perfectly conveyed by Olmi's movie. Which isn't to say there are no beautifully filmed, and spectacular battle scenes in Il Mestiere…

Other scenes, such as those of Renaissance aristocrats at social gatherings and at court, really create the impression you're watching an animated Italian Renaissance painting. The language spoken by the characters in this movie is achingly beautiful, but none of the lines are delivered in a contrived or actory manner - you just simply get the impression that Renaissance aristocrats spoke in such a sublimely articulate and poetic way. Giovanni's wife Maria (not Caterina Dè Medici, as listed by the IMDb!) is shown all the way through the movie reading and replying to her spouse's letters. They contain things as mundane as his detailed laundry lists, alongside crucial requests for political mediation. These were requests that every high-born Renaissance wife should have had the intelligence and sophisticated diplomatic ability to carry out. Meanwhile, Giovanni's mistress, a married Mantuan lady, is sympathetically shown living her clandestine purgatory. Last but not least, the movie has a lovely, evocative score.

The film's final quote regarding fire-arms could be lifted exactly as it is and be applied to our very own "weapons of mass destruction" - a bitter, disheartening paradox. I don't think this is a movie for everyone, but those who believe they might appreciate it are really in for a treat.

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