As his first assignment, lieutenant Drogo is sent to an isolated fortress on the borders of a desert and of a range of high mountains. The mission of the garrison is to prevent a possible incursion by the fearsome Tartars, coming from beyond the desert. Some fellow officers are eagerly awaiting an attack; some no longer want to believe in it; others take advantage of the vague threat to further their career. All of them are sacrificing everything — health, youth, friends, family — for a distant military ideal: leading the defence against the onslaught of the enemy. But in the vast emptiness surrounding the fortress, nobody has ever sighted the Tartars… –IMDb
Valerio Zurlini (19 March 1926, Bologna – 27 October 1982) was an Italian film director, stage director and screenwriter.
During his law studies in Rome, he started working in the theatre. In 1943, he joined the Italian resistance. Zurlini became a member of the Italian Communist Party. He filmed short documentaries in the immediate post-war period and in 1954 directed his first feature film, The Girls of San Frediano, his only comedy. In 1958 together with Leonardo Benvenuti, Piero De Bernardi and Alberto Lattuada Zurlini won the Silver Ribbon for Best Script for Lattuada’s Guendalina. Zurlini made his name as a director with his second feature film, Violent Summer (1959), starring Eleonora Rossi Drago and Jean Louis Trintignant.
In 1961 Zurlini filmed Girl with a Suitcase, a successful intimist drama, starring Claudia Cardinale, who became a film star in Italy, and Jacques Perrin, who would become Zurlini’s favorite actor. In 1962… read more
Few films have ever conjured up a more profoundly melancholic sense of the passing of time than this haunting, slow-burning meditation on death and war, two of Zurlini's key thematic interests. Shot almost entirely within the striking, roughly 2000 year-old Bam Citadel in Iran by the great Luciano Tavoli—whose austere lighting schemes alone add a near-metaphysical dimension to the proceedings—it features one of the best male ensembles ever assembled on film, with each actor playing a well-defined role rather than himself. Echoing Kafka and Beckett in the tedium and repetitive absurdity of its movements, The Desert of the Tartars is essentially an existential ghost story in which silences are more pregnant with meaning than words. Arguably the greatest Italian film of the Seventies.