In 1941, an Italian soldier is leaving for the Soviet front. The Fascist army is allied with the Nazi war machine. Victory seems close. The convoy moves forward, men are singing and hopeful. The soldier’s mind goes back to the melancholic fairy tales his Russian mother told him. Unlike his younger companions, he has already been to war, in Africa, and he fears it. The train crosses Europe, reaching the interminable expanses of the Ukrainian plains. As winter arrives, enthusiasm wanes under the first mortar shells, the cold and the snow. The most heartfelt desire is no longer victory, but rather a warm bed, food, and to go back home. The immense wind ravaged steppe seems to be inhabited by ghosts.
Il Varco is a work of fiction made with both official and amateur archive material. It is the subjective account of a soldier involved in the Italian campaign in Russia during WWII. The film, as well as the footage it is made from, is populated by presences. As the war becomes more desperate, ghosts wander the Ukrainian steppe in ever increasing numbers. Memories haunt the protagonist’s mind, taking him back to the horrors of Italy’s colonial war. And finally fragments of a war yet to come, one being fought in Ukraine today, in the very same places. Present and past run on parallel tracks, which get closer and eventually merge. As if the wounds of over 70 years had never healed.
Interspersed throughout the film, among other things, are precious moments of suspense, where the voice of the narrator stops and the images and the score alone invite the viewer to reflect and, perhaps, to dream.— Davide Abbatescianni, Cineuropa