The young and eager lieutenant Drogo (Perrin) is commissioned for duty at the Bastiani Fortress, a remote outpost on the edge of a vast desert. The soldiers there are preparing for an incursion by the enemy Tartars, who live beyond the mountains encircling the desert. Drogo’s fellow officers, of various ages, health and sanity, go through arcane daily rituals, keeping up the appearance of military decorum and strength. Years pass and Drogo becomes sick. Will he live to serve his country and satisfy his ultimate purpose?
A masterpiece of existential inquiry, Zurlini’s expansive epic is adapted from the 1940 novel of the same name by Dino Buzzati. The bleakly beautiful citadel of the famed Arg-e Bam in Iran (since decimated in an earthquake) provides a Lean-like backdrop to this Kafkaesque parable of men grasping at routine and tradition to give meaning to their lives. Perrin, who also produced, portrays the youthful idealist and is the audience’s conduit to the world of Bastiani. With a haunting score by Ennio Morricone, this austere, deeply felt saga wasn’t originally released in America. Fortunately it can now be treasured as both classic cinema and a historical record.