Chronicle in Stone
is a sequence of vignettes that tracks ordinary life during World
War II in an Albanian city as viewed through the eyes of a child.
The public events are distorted through the double lenses of gossiping
townfolks and the way a child hears that gossiping. The two levels of filtering
turn the war events into magical happenings.
Albania is initially under Italian occupation. The construction of a new
airfield and the establishment of a brothel for the soldiers
are the talks of the town, following a brief hysteria for witches.
Then the bombings start and a gruesome event seems to mark the city's history:
the arm of a British pilot is recovered from the wreckage of his plane.
Then the Italian soldiers leave, defeated; then they come back, with the nuns
and the prostitutes. The family has to leave, while granma stays behind.
Throughout the war calamities, a sad love story takes place: a girl who
got pregnant has disappeared, probably killed by her family. The boy looks
for her corpse in the wells, and is mistaken for a ghost. But the
girl, Susan, had been hiding in the caves during the bombings and eventually
comes out. She is then sent away to visit some family.
The war changes shape when the communists become the main enemy of the Italians.The garrison's commander is assassinated by the partisans, who eventually
take the city. Some people sided with the Italians and are executed.
One communist soldier kills a girl by accident while executing a renegade,
and is in turn executed by the other communists.
A girl with the beard leaves with the Italian troops and the town hopes
that she brings the town's bad luck with her.
The Germans come next, setting fire to the houses that belong to partisans.
The townfolks have to leave the city again. Eventually the communists take
over and install a communist dictatorship.
The Gneral of the Dead Army might be a parable about how senseless
war is or a parable about how meaningless life is. The task of recovering
an army of dead bodies is the supreme pointless job but at the same time
the gravity of war makes it an important and essential job. The general in
charge has to defend the honor of his country while ridiculing that country
with this pointless task. The general makes no moral judgment on the war
itself until he insults the bones of an evil colonel who deserved to be killed,
indirectly admitting that the honor he is trying to defend is standing
on weak foundations.
Many years after the end of World War II
an Italian general and a Catholic priest are sent by their government to
Albania to recover the dead soldiers who are still buried there.
Italy tried to invade Albania was eventually was kicked out by the partisans
and the British.
They begin roaming the countryside, following a map that should help them
locate the places where battles occurred. From the beginning they are surrounded
by the enigmatic peasants, some of which are hired to help in the digging.
Every now and then we hear the voices of the dead explaining how they died.
The general senses that they probably would not approve of this pointless search.
One particular corpse interests the priest, the remains of colonel Z, whose
attractive widow the priest seems to know well, and this intrigues the
general. What happened to this colonel is still a mystery.
A further element of discomfort is that the country, Albania, is one of the
most isolated places in the world, being a communist country but also hostile
to the Soviet Union.
The general has to straddle a thin line between defending the honor of his
country, and of its dead soldiers, and not offending the Albanians, who were
invaded and killed by the fascist army of Italy. The general is offended when
he reads that someone has scribbled a nationalist slogan on a wall, but the
interpreter reminds him that the Italian soldiers had scribbled fascist slogans
on the Albanian partisans before hanging them.
One day they meet the one-armed general of another country who is there for the same
mission: recover the remains of their dead soldiers. They seem to have less
reliable information than the Italians.
The local people still tell the story of the Italian prostitute, brough there
to serve in the brothel opened by the fascists for their troops, who was killed
for seducing the son of a local notable and was buried by the Italian soldiers
as a national heroine.
The general and the priest arrive at the village where colonel Z's batallion
had massacred men, women and children. This reminds the general of his encounter
with the sexy Betty, the widow of the colonel and apparently close friend of
the priest. Then they run into an old man who delivers the body of an Italian
deserter who worked at his mill for several years:
his size fits the size of the lost colonel Z. The old man also recovered
the diary that this nameless soldier had kept all those years. The general
reads of this soldier's secret love for his employer's daughter, Christine.
His wedding gift to her was his identification medallion, which is why it is
now impossible to determine his identity: this is the rare skeleton with
no identification medallion. The general is humiliated when he learns that
many Italian soldiers simply sold their weapons and hid in the farms rather
than fight the partisans. The diary ends when the Italian troops are again
advancing towards the village and airplanes are bombing the partisans.
The general is having nightmares almost every night and drinks too much.
He has an entire army under his command, except that they are dead people.
His pride is rapidly fading, recognizing that the natives are simply making
fun of his mission.
The general and the priest run into a number of graves that have already
been dug up and the skeletons stolen. Initially they suspect the local people
did it but then they understand that the other foreign general, not finding
his own dead, has simply taken some of the Italian ones: bones are bones.
The mission is taking longer than expected: some bodies cannot be found.
The general is getting more and more depressed. The locals are not friendly,
one of the workers dies of an infection caused by the decomposing bodies
(as if the soldiers had taken revenge on the old man who used to be a partisan)
and the general keeps imagining the voices of the dead telling the story of
how they died.
On the last day of the mission, the general is still missing colonel Z and by
coincidence they are staying at the village where most likely colonel Z
was killed. The general, feeling lonely and depressed, has the awful idea of
joining a wedding party. In the middle of the festivities he is confronted by
an old woman whose family was killed by the invading army. The leader of the
batalion was colonel Z. He had forced the woman's teenage daughter to have
sex with him in his tent. Later the girl had committed suicide. The woman
had killed the colonel and buried him where nobody could find him: under
her doorstep. After sobbing and shouting in front of everybody, she walks
to her house, digs up the skeleton, puts it in a sack and carries the sack
to the general, an embarrassing and humiliating scene. The general suddenly
realizes that nobody welcomes him at their party and leaves. On the way back
he kicks the sack with colonel Z's bones into the river. The priest, friend
of the family of colonel Z, is mad at him and stops talking to him.
The day before their departure from Albania the general meets again the
one-armed general of the other country. This man apologizes to the Italian
general for the theft of some Italian remains by a corrupt major who has
already been punished. The two generals, both depressed, get drunk together
into the night telling each other stories about their graveyards while
telegrams keep being delivered sent by the family of colonel Z asking for
The generals can hear the Albanian army rehearsing for the great parade of the
following day, that commemorates the Albanian victory in the war.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx) |
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