The film Mediterraneo (1991) directed by Gabriele Salvatores tells the story of a small group of Italian soldiers sent to a small Greek island in 1941 to establish a garrison there. Lieutenant Raffaele Montini narrates the opening scenes in which he introduces the “platoon of misfits like me”: There is a mule driver, two brothers who are mountain men, a sergeant and a deserter, among other quirky people. It’s one year after Italy joined Germany against the Allies, and the Lieutenant says our mission is to “observe and report,” our strategic importance…zero.
The island, called Megisti in the film, was shot on the Greek island of Castelrosso (Kastellorizo in Greek). It is located in the Levant Sea in the eastern Mediterranean not far from Rhodes and only 2 kilometers from Turkey. When the Italian soldiers arrive, the island appears to be deserted. The first night they see bombing on the horizon and by radio interception, they discover that the ship that had been intended to pick them up was destroyed. Gradually, people reappear in the village. They say they hid because the Germans had taken all their men, but seeing that the Italians were absolutely harmless, they decided to return to their normal lives.
The Italian soldiers are absorbed into the lives of the Greek islanders, and the days are idyllic, full of friendship and love. The local orthodox priest asks the lieutenant, who is an amateur painter, to restore the murals in the church. The mountain men brothers befriend a lovely shepherdess, who, in turn, loves them equally. The sergeant, the only one with a spirit for war, learns folk dancing. And the shyest soldier falls in love with the island’s prostitute, Vasilissa (which means “queen” in Greek). They marry…she in an elegant Greek bridal gown…and eventually open up a restaurant together. In fact, there are many Italian and Greek cultural elements in the film—like coffee and soccer—that reinforce the theme of “one face, one race.”
Three years later, a reconnaissance plan makes an emergency landing on the island. The pilot tells them what happened in Italy, from the fall of fascism to the allied liberation of the country. The ending of the film is the reunion of some of these soldiers on the Greek island.
This film won many awards, including an Oscar for the Best Foreign Film in 1992. However, there were many film critics at the time who found the film “superficial” and without “any redeeming merits.” These critics were not living though a pandemic in which people were craving a sense of normalcy, beauty and peace. Nor did they anticipate that people would want to travel…if only for two hours…to an absolutely idyllic Greek island.