Considering that "Mediterraneo" won the Oscar for best foreign-language film over the stunning Chinese drama "Raise the Red Lantern," one might rightly expect it to be equally stunning.
Alas, "Mediterraneo" proves to be merely a featherweight ensemble comedy. Not that it's bad; it does provide fairly pleasant entertainment. But it's also quite forgettable.
The story has eight Italian soldiers sent during the early days of World War II to a remote Greek island, which, in their own bumbling way, they storm and occupy. As they march through the village, however, they discover that the island is apparently deserted.
The film's first third or so has this disparate batch of misfits trying in vain to be real soldiers. But they aren't there more than a day or two before their ship sinks and their radio is smashed. With no means of communication or escape, they soon begin to feel truly adrift and lazily become accustomed to the relaxing atmosphere of the sand and sea.
Soon, the local townfolk appear all older people, women and children. The men, it seems, have been spirited away by German soldiers and the villagers hid out fearing they had returned.
It isn't long before the Italians integrate with the Greeks and they all live happily together, fairly oblivious to the time that casually passes. Before they realize it, years have gone by.
The trouble is that as they all settle into their escapist life, the film loses both its edge and its momentum.
During the early scenes, the eight primary characters ingratiate themselves to the audience as we learn their various character traits and begin to sympathize with their plight. But once they settle into living among the villagers, director Gabriele Salvatores and screenwriter Vincenzo Monteleone seem satisfied to merely have a series of set-pieces show the soldiers in various stages of euphoria. From this point on, nothing much happens.
Still, there is a sweetness and gentility to it all that is lacking in most movies today and if it were sharper and without its R-rated excesses "Mediterraneo" might have been the kind of light, feel-good movie that would gain a longer commercial life than most foreign fare.
As it is, it's a pleasant diversion but nothing more.
"Mediterraneo" is not rated but would doubtless get an R for nudity and profanity. There is also violence, vulgarity, sex and some drug use.