Like a mere pinpoint in the infinite Libyan desert, a handful of young Italians set up camp in a remote outpost where they have been stationed. The waving palms and undulating dunes set such a cheery lazy holiday mood, that only the occasional crackling news bulletins to rouse the troops remind them that they are in late summer 1941. And that they are a medical unit on the African front.
Fresh out of training camp and told this would be just a short trip to the desert, the soldiers have come more eagerly armed with poetry books and good cameras than rifles. There is the moonstruck Major who spends his days and nights composing love letters to his young bride, the handsome Lieutenant Salvi who joined the army only because he wanted to travel, and a shockingly straight talking Franciscan friar who is devoted to caring for the villagers nearby. The unseen enemy of the war itself, raging somewhere on the distant front, recedes even further as the men are drawn into the fascination and brotherhood of the ancient desert civilization. The occupying soldiers turn to healing the local children, surrendering to the inaccessible and irresistible beauty of their young women, as Catholics and Allah’s followers join together in prayer and solidarity.
When well-intentioned snowshoes and bonnets arrive as Christmas presents from abroad, the soldiers begin to feel their true isolation. The preposterous visits of their General from the front hurling hysterical demands, further confirm the uneasy sensation that perhaps the "mirage" is not in the desert, but rather in their own army and back home. Fleeing aviation officers arrive on foot from the front line debacle, while truckloads of the wounded soon begin to follow. Yet, it is the intimate unsuspected betrayal of the Major’s young wife that contains all the pain and horror of their own tremendous betrayal. That is, as victims of a fate to which the young men had all so innocently and lightheartedly turned.
From the novel “Il Deserto della Libia” by Mario Tobino.