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The Fallen Reviews

Though impressively ambitious and making the most of a small budget and talented cast, director Ari Taub's feature concentrates so intently on the day-to-day minutiae of infantry life on World War II's European front that the bigger picture gets lost. October 1944: as German troops and their Italian allies attempt to hold their positions in northern Italy's Apennine mountains while under increasing attacks by rebel Italian partisans, Allied troops press their way north in hopes of smashing "the Gothic Line" — Germany's final line of defense. Caught in the no-man's land between these two fronts, ordinary Italian villagers either side with the fascists or secretly support the partisan Communist Brigade. Some, like the Italian bootlegger Rossini (Carmine Raspaolo), have found ways to make the most of enterprising American supply soldiers like Brooklyn-born, Italian-American Sal (John O'Leary), who's peddling cases of 1926 Chateau La Tour to anyone with enough lire to buy them. But Sal's planned rendezvous with Rossini hits an unexpected snag when Sal's unit, under the drunken command of supply sergeant Ricky Malone (John McVay), is ordered to escort a wounded doughboy (Ruben Pla) and some desperately needed supplies to the American front line. The delivery is delayed when their jeep breaks down on a country road and they're forced to continue on foot. They stop for the night at an Italian farmhouse whose inhabitants secretly support the Communist Brigade and, unbeknownst to any of them, the family is also playing host to a German spy (Milton Welsch) who claims to be a Scottish soldier but is actually wiring information back to his officers. Meanwhile, at a German camp 9 miles north of the Gothic Line, the long-awaited Italian reinforcements led by Lt. Bruno Gianini (Fabio Sartor) finally arrive. But their first orders from Lt. Gunther Breukner (Thomas Pohn) — to eliminate the partisan threat — will test their commitment to a German victory. This film is Taub's second pass at the same material — an 88-minute version entitled Letters from the Dead, which was shot entirely in New York and Massachusetts and played festivals in 2003 — and the practice has paid off. Italian locations, strong acting in three different languages, and sharply written snapshots of individual soldiers from all four sides of the conflict add up to a multifaceted close-up of daily life on the lines. But Taub's careful juggling act also means that no dominant characters or story lines emerge, and the fractured narrative reflects all the confusion and disarray of war — whether or not that was his intent.