PUTTING THE GREAT WAR IN THE DOCK
As part of our thematic review of the Great War (and following on from our delightful insight into the mischievous world of female spies and the decisive role of aviation during this period), our selection this year sheds light on the absurd and indefensible nature of this war, exposing the abuse of both political and military power that took place. The most notable film to rise to this challenge is Paths of Glory (1957), banned in France for 18 years and screened last year as part of our series on Kubrick and Warfare. This year, we are screening a further four noteworthy examples: two of them French, one American and one Italian. The first of these chronologically is a film by Abel Gance, a master filmmaker known primarily for his extraordinary epic Napoléon. From as early as 1918, his film J’accuse — a title inspired of course by Zola’s open letter in defence of Dreyfus — paints a terrifying picture of war against the backdrop of a love story. The final sequence, in which soldiers seek an explanation from survivors, is incredible. Less controversially, as a forerunner to Jean Renoir’s major pacifist work La Grande Illusion, Raymond Bernard was to produce a 1931 adaptation of Roland Dorgelès’ novel Les Croix de bois. This harrowing film, with its unembellished realism and rare authenticity, featured both ex-servicemen and leading actors such as Charles Vanel and Pierre Blanchar.
With the Vietnam War raging, two films hit the big screen. In 1970, Dalton Trumbo offered an adaptation of his own 1939 novel Johnny Got His Gun. The result is one of the most sanguinary indictments of war, expressed through the portrayal of a man deprived of his speech, sight, hearing and sense of smell and of all four limbs. In the following year, Rosi’s Many Wars Ago would in turn take aim at the ineptitude of the Italian military rule which, in 1916, sent soldiers to be slaughtered—when it wasn’t slaughtering them on home territory. Accused of maligning the military, the film was later acquitted. In the words of Fénélon, “war is an evil which dishonours mankind”.
- Olivier Broche
J’ACCUSE, Abel Gance (1938) – France
LES CROIX DE BOIS (WOODEN CROSSES), Raymond Bernard (1931) – France
JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN, Dalton Trumbo (1973) – United States
MANY WARS AGO (UOMINI CONTRO), Francesco Rosi (1970) – Italy