In the beginning there is just silence and snow and the moonlight on the high plain. The peaceful scene is, however, deceptive: we are actually on the front-line in the Italian alps during the First World War. For the moment a ceasefire prevails; a soldier sings for his own unit, for the enemy and for himself. The men are sick, wounded and exhausted. They face the prospect of their own deaths more with resignation than fear. The sound of shots is drawing nearer once more. Orders are given which mean certain death. A comrade shoots himself before the enemy out there can kill him. Artillery fire forces the soldiers to retreat. The fallen are left behind, hastily buried in the deep snow.
The film's almost abstract black-and-white photography shows the beauty of nature as a lost idyll and transmits a powerful impression of the soldiers' desolation. Ermanno Olmi tells of the senselessness of war and moves the audience with a universal humanity which has no recourse to religion or ideology.