One should watch The Desert of the Tartars twice because the first time is spent trying to overcome the films seemingly monotonous store and understand its underlying theme while the second time is spent appreciating the artistic aspects that enhanced the visual style that made this a classic film.
Descriptions of Valerio Zurlini‚(TM)s theatrical interpretation of Dino Buzzati‚(TM)s novel provided by other reviewers contain expressions such as ‚a classic of surreal literature ‚¶ a nightmarish and dark vision of humanity and its shortcomings,‚? ‚a metaphor of ‚¶ spiritual imprisonment,‚? ‚mystical challenges of the landscape,‚? and ‚Kafkaesque symbolism.‚? However, the temptation to ascribe the label of surreal to anything strange is overplayed in the film based on my interpretation as well as in the novel according to Parks.
The dialogue is sparse but reflective of the high desert altitude in which the story is set and yet there are tones of human warmth in the comradeship of solders. Captain Horitz‚(TM)s description of Fort Bastiano‚(TM)s location to Lieutenant Drogo as: ‚A border with nothing on the other side of it. Beyond the Fort is a desert ‚¶ and then nothing‚? conveys the feeling of alienation while the doctor‚(TM)s reply to Drago‚(TM)s statement that he has been assigned of this outpost by mistake: ‚Here or elsewhere ‚¶ we‚(TM)re all somewhere by mistake‚? alludes to a more fundamental question; that question involves existence, what is its purpose and what is beyond it? Clearly the film has an existential flavor rather than one of surreality which juxtaposes objects within an irrational environment in order to see reality. An existential viewpoint is further buttressed by the use of field glasses throughout the film to peer into the mist and darkness beyond the Fort‚(TM)s border in order to unravel what lies beyond. There is an expectation of hope among of some within the confines of the Fort conflicted with an irrational bureaucratic policy that will not acknowledge anything beyond.
Part of the preoccupation with surreality by others may be due to the influence of the Italian surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico on the production of the film and his painting "La Torre Rossa" is claimed by others to have been influential in the selection of the 14th Century fortress of Bam in southeastern Iran to shoot the film. While this painting certainly evokes a feeling reminiscent of the film‚(TM)s location, such a feeling is lost upon closer inspection due to the modernity of the tower‚(TM)s surrounding structures. Nonetheless, the film‚(TM)s visual style has been claimed by Caputo to be directly influenced by de Chirico's La m¬īeditation automnale (1912), La m¬īelancolie (1912), and L‚(TM)¬īenigme d‚(TM)une journ¬īee (1914) and the use of the mannequin as ‚one of the most crucial and diffuse icons of the Metaphysical School.‚? According to Caputo, Zurlini incorporated de Chirico's visual style to bring out the visual dimension of the of Buzzati's novel; ‚The most sophisticated film adaptations involve words filtered through the discourse of the visual.‚?
Rolando Caputo, Literary Cineastes: The Italian Novel and the Cinema, in The Cambridge Companion to the Italian Novel Edited by Peter Bondanella and Andrea Ciccarelli.
Tim Parks, "Throwing Down a Gauntlet," The Threepenny Review Winter 2001