Alessandro Blasetti directed this historical drama focusing on the Battle of Calatafimi. In May, 1860, the citizens of Sicily rebelled and defeated the troops sent by the King of Naples to put them down. Blasetti uses an amateur cast speaking in regional dialects, which gives his film an authenticity in sharp contrast to most of the pompous epics being churned out at the time.
The story concentrates on the rebels themselves, including a rebel’s wife and the young shepherd (Giuseppe Gulino) who travels to Genoa to enlist the aid of Garibaldi. The film’s style (and its focus on peasants) is almost a precursor to neo-realism, and presents a very human portrait of the forces behind battlefield spectacle. (Xploited Cinema)
Sicily is under the rule of the Bourbons. The picciotti have squashed a massive riot in Palermo where local patriots are calling for armed resistance. Further South gangs are scattered in the mountains awaiting the arrival of Giuseppe Garibaldi.
Carmeniddu (Giuseppe Gulino) has joined the rebels but his mind is restless – his beloved wife Gesuzza (Aida Bellia) is alone in the village. With news about a large contingent of picciotti approaching his home Carmeniddu is determined to take matters in his own hands. But during war one has to follow orders, not his heart.
Groundbreaking early Italian cinema 1860 is structured to work both as a gigantic epic as well as an intimate tale about two people madly in love with each other. With notable emphasis on detail pic gets the spirit of the time right.
The massive battle scene at the end is comparable in scope to the epic action seen in Bondarchuk’s War and Peace. Blasetti’s camera roams freely capturing as much as possible from the massive movement of people, the exchange of fire. For a substantial period of time much of the battle feels like a documentary piece.
Editing, especially for such an early film, is top-notch. The switch between the more intimate side of the story where Carmeniddu and Gesuzza are the focus of attention and the distinctively patriotic message is convincing. As a result pic does not come across as a declamation rather it plays as a history piece with strong and believable thesps.
The overwhelming sense of nationalism oozing from the screen is to be expected given that 1860 was commissioned and completed during Mussolini’s era. As mentioned earlier however empty slogans or incoherent lines are not part of the story.
1860 culminates with a prolonged battle scene which never grants Garibaldi a major role. He is seen sporadically and merely in the context of the historic events pic attempts to recreate. Blasetti’s approach is commendable given that a shift towards a superior and more complex character at the end of the story would have dramatically affected its cohesiveness.
Pic is based on Gino Mazzucchi’s story La Processione Incontro a Garibaldi. (DVD Talk)
Subtitles included: English, Italian