A film such as To Live in Peace, the most recent Italian Import, is cloquent proof that straightforwardness and simple realism are far better dramatic ingredients than the usual artificiality and mock heroics that accompany war movies. Even the story is simple: it concerns a little mountain town almost untouched by the war which rages around it. Untouched, at least, until two escaped American prisoners looking for shelter, which is given them by a local farmer. Their hiding and subsequent discovery provide ample opportunity for both comedy and tragedy, as well as for straight drama.
Thse opportunities are never overplayed, however, and therein lies the virtue and the appeal of this film. It is a story of little people, faced with a big threat to their usually placid existence, and it is handled accordingly--without melodrama or bombast. There is no etching of characters and situations in black and white--each person emerges as an individual, and even the German soldier is a human being rather thn a symbol of evil.
The acting is superb. Aldo Fabrizi, who plays the part of the farmer, brings to his part the sublety and delicate shading of real understanding which he previously demonstrated in Open City, and the rest of the cast are equally appealing. The handling of Joe, the Negro soldier, is particularly interesting: the natives frankly treat him as something of a freak and are quite unabashed in so stating. Yet beneath their curiosity, lies a genuine respect which permits Joe to attain individuality and equality seldom before accorded a Negro on the screen.
The unaffected handling of this problem is typical of the whole film. To Live In Peace does not attempt to be a war epic--it merely depicts with sympathy, sublety, and great understanding a small incident in a great war. It succeeds in this and does not attempt to do more.