We’ve reached that point in cinematic history where filmmakers are looking deeper and deeper into more niche war stories. Earlier this year we had the story of art thieves during World War II in George Clooney’s The Monuments Men. Now we have 1915: The Battle For The Alps, a story about one of the lesser known front lines of World War 1: the one in the Dolomites between Austria and Italy, which is one of the crazier battlefields in human history with allegedly more men dying there by natural causes than by enemy hands.
The film’s story opens in 1915 with a couple in love – Andreas, a young Tyrolean played by William Moseley (The Chronicles of Narnia), and Francesca (Eugenia Costantini from trans-Alpine television series Boris), a 17-year-old Italian girl from the neighbouring Dolomites. Their blossoming love affair is suddenly interrupted when Andreas is drafted up to join the army, after Italy declares war on Austria. This Alpine border region soon becomes the setting for tragedy, as neighbours become enemies, families are divided, and lovers are separated.
If you’re shooting a war movie, there’s no shortage of examples. The best comparison here, I think, would be Das Boot – a group of men are simply drafted into fighting against a mostly unseen enemy and the forces of nature and modern warfare. While 1915: The Battle For The Alps manages to stand its ground, it loses every single point to Das Boot. Instead of focusing on the young men, the writer decided to include some family drama – which features a nice cameo by Claudia Cardinale – including a hopeless love story, as well as a sub-plot with a villain down in the valley and an over-the-top Italian commander. The sub-plots are a distraction from the main theme and the different strands of the story don’t meld together, which leaves the plot with lots of holes that aren’t filled.
While Das Boot is a good comparison, 1915: The Battle For The Alps could also be likened to The Book Thief, which came out at the start of this year. The Book Thief featured German natives speaking English while incorporating a few well-known Germanic words, which was jarring to say the least. 1915: The Battle For The Alps, bafflingly, goes one further and has the Austrian characters speaking in complete English, while the Italians speak in their native tongue. Not only is it lazy, it also comes across as offensive and biased.
Apart from those jarring problems, everything else is competent enough. The production values are good despite the reported serious problems the crew ran into on set. Some members were hit by lightning, and their main battlefield set was washed away in a landslide before they could use it (maybe a sign that this film shouldn’t have happened?). As a result, there are less battlefield scenes than planned, but those that remain are a good depiction of the horrors and nightmares of war.
You only need to look back at the war story archive to know that there are much better war films than 1915: The Battle For The Alps, ones that don’t suffer from lazy writing and uninspiring performances. In this case, you’re best off re-watching some of the old classics.
1915: The Battle For The Alps is out on DVD now.