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  • TBC
  • Action, Drama
  • 2004
  • 106 mins

The Fallen

The Fallen


Three nationalities are locked into the same conflict in this WWII epic. Ari Taub directs


It is the autumn of 1944 in Northern Italy. A German unit led by Lieutenant Gunther Br├╝chner (Pohn) is hemmed in by guerrilla attacks from Italian partisans and desperate for food supplies and reinforcements from Mussolini's remaining loyalists. Yet when the fresh-faced men of Lieutenant Gianini (Sartor) arrive, they are reluctant to fight against fellow Italians, and less than enthusiastic about their German comrades-in-arms, or a war that many of them already see as a lost cause.

Meanwhile an American advance infantry company is coming under heavy German fire, and also radios in for assistance. Sergeant Malone (McVay) and the young men under his command in the Quartermasters Brigade are assigned to deliver the requested supplies to the frontline, even though they have never seen any action, being more used to drinking, blackmarketeering and milk runs.

When their jeep breaks down en route, they are forced to travel on foot through a treacherous war-zone where they too, like their fascist counterparts, will reluctantly experience the harsher realities of armed combat.

As these two narratives unfold, at first in parallel before their eventual, inevitable collision, The Fallen reveals men on all sides not just at war, but also in conflict. Gunther, caught in a hopeless situation, is divided in his loyalties to his nation and to his men. Gianini serves the German side, but is uncomfortable with the inferiority implicit in his status. Malone, though a drunkard and combat-shy by nature, is terrified of being dishonoured on the field of battle as his father once was. And every side, from the occupying Germans to the local partisans to the invading Americans, has Italians fighting for it, underscoring the mixed allegiances within the very nation that is in dispute.

At times The Fallen substitutes lazy racial stereotyping for more probing characterisation - for here Germans are generally disciplined and efficient, Italians are chaotic and passionate, and Americans are innocent and righteous. Yet this is largely excused by the even-handedness of the screenplay, always at pains to stress the common humanity of its multi-ethnic players over and above their superficial differences.

Each side has its cowards, each side has its heroes, and each side has men more interested in their bellies, sex or just clowning around than in the serious business of death. There are few other American films which would dare guide viewers into admiration for the courage of a committed Nazi (here shown twice heiling Hitler shortly before his gloriously futile death) - but The Fallen, much like Clint Eastwood's Flags Of Our Fathers/Letters From Iwo Jima diptych, is concerned with cutting through black-and-white ideology and broadstroke propaganda to a more nuanced construction of martial heroism.

There may be little in the episodic details of The Fallen that has not already been seen in countless other war films - but this very averageness is, in a way, what makes the movie so extraordinary.

For while The Fallen is an ambitious piece, shot in three different languages and several countries with an international ensemble of players, it was in fact shot sporadically over eight years on Digital Video with a cast of unknowns for under three million dollars - and yet, miraculously, it can still hold its own in the company of such budget-blasting extravaganzas as Saving Private Ryan, Taegukgi and Jarhead. Many other war epics may be just like it, but few have been made with so much love and so little money.

Add to this some tense stand-offs, a slo-mo finale reminiscent of Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, and the occasional touch of quirkiness - like the beautiful, tight-lipped Italian girl who turns out to have hideous rickets or the peasant refugees who lose their wheelbarrow only to gain a jeep - and you have a war film which manages to hit hard despite punching well above its weight.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Brett G Smith, John McVay, Ruben Pla, Carmine Raspaolo, Fabio Sartor, Thomas Pohn, Antonio Oliveri, John O'Leary, Ron Hirt
  • Director: Ari Taub
  • Screen Writer: Nick Day, Caio Ribeiro
  • Producer: Curtis Mattikow
  • Photographer: Ian Dudley, Claudia Amber, Caio Ribeiro
  • Composer: Sergei Dreznin

In a nutshell

This multiethnic, polyglot war epic successfully marries its grand ambitions to a minuscule budget.

by Anton Bitel

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