Le Soldatesse (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Feb 09, 2023
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Le Soldatesse (Blu-ray Review)


Valerio Zurlini

Release Date(s)

1965 (October 25, 2022)


Zebra Films/Debora Film (Raro Video/Kino Lorber)
  • Film/Program Grade: A-
  • Video Grade: B-
  • Audio Grade: B
  • Extras Grade: D

Le Soldatesse (Blu-ray)

Buy it Here!


Le Soldatesse (aka The Camp Followers) is a harrowing 1965 war film from Valerio Zurlini, who was one of the great directors in the post-war era of Italian cinema. While his name may not have achieved as much international recognition as did those of Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, Michelangelo Antonioni, or Luchino Visconti, Zurlini still demonstrated his own unique voice in a way that earned him a place in the pantheon alongside those other master filmmakers. He largely eschewed the strict neorealism of Rossellini or De Sica, the formalism of Antonioni, and the decadence of Visconti, choosing instead to forge his own distinctive path, fusing disparate elements from each of them into a singular whole. In films like Le Soldatesse, the setting drew from neorealist milieu, but the style bore formalist touches that would have felt out of place in that genre, and the narrative touched on themes that would have been seemed natural in later works by Visconti. Regardless of any recognizable elements that may have been on display, Zurlini’s work was entirely his own.

Le Soldatesse is an adaptation of the 1956 novel by Ugo Pirro, with a screenplay by Leonardo Benvenuti, and Piero De Bernardi, and Zurlini. It takes place in a forgotten theatre of World War II, after Mussolini declared war on Greece, thinking that it would be an easy conquest. He was wrong, and as the opening title card for Le Soldatesse indicates, the ensuing campaign took a ruinous toll on both sides in the conflict. The film takes place in 1942, after Mussolini finally prevailed, and the countryside was in shambles. Lieutenant Martino (Tomas Milian) has been tasked with transporting a truckload of Greek prostitutes, delivering the women to various military bases along the way to service the troops. He’s accompanied by Sergeant Castagnoli (Mario Adorf) as a driver, and they’re also forced to bring an unpleasant Blackshirt Major (Aleksandar Gavric) with them for the ride. It’s just a job, but as Martino gets to know the women during the journey, he becomes increasingly disillusioned with the assignment, and their trip won’t take most of them to the expected destinations. Le Soldatesse also stars a remarkable collection of international actors as the Greek women, including Anna Karina, Marie Laforêt, Lea Massari, and Valeria Moriconi.

In some ways, Le Soldatesse bears as much in common with the works of Carl Theodore Dreyer as it does with anything by Zurlini’s fellow post-war filmmakers. Like the great Danish director’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, it’s an epic shot primarily in closeup. Despite the authentic Greek locations that served as his backdrop, Zurlini was far more interested in the human face, and what it could reveal about the conflicts going on inside of his characters. His cast served him well in that regard, with Karina, Laforêt, and Moriconi standing out in particular. None of them needed pages of dialogue or elaborate backstories to bring these women to life—they just needed to have Zurlini’s camera trained on their wonderfully expressive faces. It’s a fascinating exercise in contrasts, since Laforêt’s impassiveness manages to convey just as much as Karina’s innate charm. Zurlini trusted his actors to articulate their character’s feelings regardless of whether or not they had any dialogue to use as a crutch, and that’s a large part of what makes Le Soldatesse such an extraordinary film. As with The Passion of Joan of Arc, it’s an epic writ small. For Zurlini, no quantity of massive sets or expansive locations could match the epic qualities contained within the human face.

Cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli shot Le Soldatesse on 35 mm film using spherical lenses, framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. There’s no information regarding the elements that were used for this version, but it appears to be an older master. Aside from a stray hair or two at the edges of the frame, everything is clean—unfortunately, a bit too clean. Any damage that was present has been scrubbed out of the image, but sadly, so has the grain. That means that Digital Noise Reduction has been applied throughout, although not in a consistent manner. Fine detail varies, with the textures looking merely adequate during some moments, but far too smooth in others. As a result, the softening from the optical printing used during the opening titles looks particularly soft here (although strangely enough, some dirt is still visible from the compositing process). The rest of the film varies from scene to scene, and sometimes from shot to shot. The grayscale is fine, but the contrast wavers, with occasionally elevated black levels that can give a flat, gray appearance to some sequences. Overall, this is still a definite upgrade into the world of high definition, but it just doesn’t quite look like film anymore.

Audio is offered in Italian 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with removable English subtitles. It’s a clear track, with no noteworthy noise, popping, or other artifacts, but it does sound a bit thin. Typically for Italian films of the period, the dialogue was entirely post-synced, and while the lip movements don’t match for many members of international cast, as they were speaking their native languages on set, everything still sounds as good as can be expected under the circumstances.

The following extra is included:

  • Introduction by Marco Müller (HD – 9:11)

Müller is a professor at the Shanghai Film Academy, and he was also the former director of the Venice and Rome film festivals. He provides some context for Le Soldatesse, giving a brief overview of Zurlini’s filmography before explaining how Le Soldatesse fits in. Zurlini always followed his own path, never dipping into neorealism or light comedy like other Italian directors of the day (even though the producer of Le Soldatesse did impose some lightly comic elements on it). Müller also covers some of the actors in the film. (Note that Raro originally announced that there would also be a commentary track by Danielle Hipkins, but that ended up being dropped for unknown reasons.)

While that’s not much as far as extras are concerned, it does at least provide some of that vital context for viewers who may be approaching Le Soldatessse cold, and have no experience with Zurlini. Thin extras or not, Raro’s disc is still a good gateway towards hopefully getting more of the director’s work on Blu-ray. Le Soldatesse is an important look at an overlooked theatre of WWII, and Zurlini needs wider international recognition than he’s received up to this point in time. It’s a neglected film, from a neglected director, and this is a welcome addition to the world of physical media, regardless of any flaws with the presentation.

- Stephen Bjork

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