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April 2011

The Final Sacrifice

cast: Daniel Asher, Matthew Black, Brian Bancale, and C.J. Barkus

director: Ari Taub

82 minutes (12) 2004
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Metrodome DVD Region 2

RATING: 6/10
review by Paul Higson

The Final Sacrifice

Video renters failed to give Ari Taub's film enough attention on its first-run shelf release as The Fallen, so it has been given a second shot with the title The Final Sacrifice. An ensemble piece, it doesn't do anything demonstrably wrong, but by comparison neither does it holler of real aspiration; it falls well short of the quirky adventure that was Samuel Fuller's The Big Red One, and has none of the searing visionary horror show that was Elem Klimov's Come And See.

The Final Sacrifice is set in the closing days of World War II in rural Northern Italy on the outskirts of a village. As a German unit is joined by Italian fighters it settles down into an entertaining hole and a certain radius of divertissement and bemusements. The Germans see themselves as superior and the Italians as expendable cannon fodder. Undisciplined and cowardly, the Germans recount stories of how on past experience they saw little other than the backs of compatriot Italian troops as they ran away from the bullets and missiles; a little unfair given that in the same account it is admitted that the Italians were little more than a flesh and bone shield for Germans already sitting in tanks. The Italians are a recalcitrant lot, mentally dishabille and torn between Mussolini's wishes and the knowledge that they are helping the "Germans steal our land from ourselves."

They have been drafted into the German command post to take care of the local partisans while the Germans concentrate on the advancing American army. This is inevitably not going to sit comfortably with the Italians, and their commander, Lieutenant Gianini (Fabio Sartor) expresses this to the German commander, Gunther (Thomas Pohn), informing him that not only will he refuse to have his men infiltrate and betray their fellow Italians, but that some of his men might be lost in making a decision on one side or the other if it came down to it.

He puts Gunther in their shoes, what if he or his men were posted in a German village where some of their number came from and were asked to act against their own people, if not their own villagers. Gunther is an unusually understanding German commander and the two officers have a mutual respect for one another. Even Salvatore (Sergio Leone), in whom Gianini has the greatest faith, a sturdy fellow, who admits to being low of intellect and accepting in his station, perhaps unfairly in both, and who talks up a history of kills, cannot bring himself to take true aim on his fellow countrymen, leading to several farcical if deadly situations.

The low respect for the Italians in camp escalates into several comical fracases. Supplies are short and food and blankets for the cold night are among the missing essentials, with orders back to put up with it, the frontline must be stabilised before they can expect anything. The wires to the outside world are repeatedly broken by the partisans, leaving the German commander feeling even more isolated. The Germans put the Italians on half rations, and air attacks are followed by the adding of bodies and body parts to a muddy unmarked hilltop grave.

Meanwhile, in the town, a criminal gang act no differently in wartime but to take advantage of the black market and in an increase in looting. They run afoul of their practices though when filching from the dead bodies of German soldiers who have fallen to a partisan ambush. The stealing of an Iron Cross from one soldier seals the fate of gang leader Mr Rossini (Carmine Raspado) but not before he has made the gesture of volunteering the services of his prized henchmen to the Italian troop (replacing the two that jumped ship during a stand-off with the partisans).

A character falls to sniper fire here, a character loses his leg there, and then there are the aforementioned lost limbs collected together in the muddy grave. Top all this off with the title, The Final Sacrifice, and the expectation is for a grim and bloody finale; well, isn't that how all modern war films end, with a face-wrecking, limb splintering, black earth and broken brick spraying horrors of war closing assault. The Final Sacrifice of the title however is something lower in key, with orders to hold the post to the last man interpreted by Gunther as an opportunity for most of the Germans and Italians to retreat and re-entrench themselves while he and two volunteers, including his second in command Wulfe (Dirk Schmidt) and the amputee soldier, taking on the Americans with a machine-gun post.

Running at 82 minutes the film is not around long and packs a lot into that running time, and most of it is character and repartee, though with so many players and an unfamiliar cast it is difficult to properly introduce and continue to identify most of them, making it difficult to ascertain who has deserted and which history belongs to whom. The story moves casually from one group to the next, from the command post to Mr Rossini, and then a visit to the partisan camp. The episodes are often bemusing but never subversive. There is a certain relief that the story does not want to get too ugly or dark or experimental, and that it does not aim to be epic.

But at the same time it suffers from that parochialism, becoming instead a series of vignettes and almost lazy in its delivery, which is a little unfair, as this is how most war films came out in the 1950s. And in the modern war film it is a no-win situation; damned for being too in your face, condemned for not being too in your face and conveying the grim realities of war.

As the three volunteers exchange fire the special effects carnage that is so easy in other films is botched as Americans fall with simple chest armour hits, the amputee catches an animated bullet in the forehead which has difficulty staying in position as he slowly slides dead and you can see the badly packed squib under Gunther's tunic long before it sparks and bleeds. Maybe it is better that this is less a film about fighting and more about behaviour, and often unrealistic behaviour at that, in a time of war.

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