One hundred years ago, the whole world was fighting over territory and power. Unresolved political, territorial, and economic conflicts among the major European nations, where imperialism and nationalism had been constantly growing since the 19th century, fuelled military rivalries and sparked the first global war in human history.
From July 1914 through November 1918, World War I caused over 15 million casualties, considering both combatants and civilians, and radically changed the balance of power in the world.
Everybody knows that more barbarity followed that dreadful experience, and sometimes it’s hard to believe that the human race is capable of living in peace, as armed conflicts are raging in over 150 different countries according to the Global Peace Index.
And yet we need to trust that, just like the calm after the storm, after the bloodshed greenery will bloom again. A message full of hope, this is the title of Ermanno Olmi’s latest film, set during World War I and screened simultaneously in about 100 Italian Embassies, Consulates, and Cultural Institutes on November 4, on the anniversary of the armistice.
Launched by the Italian government in collaboration with Rai Cinema, the initiative also included a special premiere in Rome in the presence of the President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano and the diplomatic corps.
Director Ermanno Olmi, 83 years old, and his crew filmed for eight weeks on the snow-covered Asiago plateau northwest of Vicenza, in Veneto region, the original site of a major battle between Austrian and Italian forces on the Alpine Front of the war.
Olmi has been living in that area with his family since the 1960s, and there he recreated the trenches and their atmosphere. Overwhelming feelings pile up in a single night of 1917, in the lead-up to the massive defeat at Caporetto: the waiting, the fear, the awareness that obeying criminal orders would be morally wrong and disobeying would get you killed.
The film is based on a true story, like those narrated by Italian authors and veterans such as Mario Stern or Carlo Emilio Gadda. But the filmmaker was also inspired by anonymous journals of common soldiers, whose impressions and memories were more immediate, not altered by literature. “If we don’t know the truth about History, how can we possibly learn from it?” Olmi commented. Among those unheeded voices was also his father’s, who joined the “bersaglieri” assault troops at the age of 19 and could never forget the horror he witnessed.
“Torneranno i prati” (Greenery Will Bloom Again) didn’t participate in any national or international film festivals, including the prestigious Venice festival that courted it for months, and instead was distributed directly to theaters. Ermanno Olmi explained that this film wasn’t meant for the movie industry but for the general public, as a reminder of one of the most shameful pages in our history as well as of the importance of holding on to our conscience, our judgement, and our humanity even in inhuman circumstances.
Hopefully, he believes, someday we’ll learn our lesson and greenery will bloom again.