The young and patriotic student Demachy joins the French army in 1914 to defend his country. But he and his comrades soon experience the terrifying, endless trench war in Champagne, where more and more wooden crosses have to be erected for this cannon fodder. —fa404748 (Gent, Belgium)
The worst of the first world war from a more objective French point of view.
What makes this film so impressive is its sinister direction, always kept at a calm distance but firm control by Raymond Bernard in visualizing a hell on earth worse than any hell imaginable, as it gives an all too convincing impression of never ending. The central battle scene in the middle of the film gives its definite stamp of a relentlessly realistic documentary in which category it outshines almost all the other first world war films including "All Quiet on the Western Front" (more personal), Rex Ingram's "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" (more sentimental), Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory" (more theatrical) Renoir's "The Grand Illusion" (more romantic) and "Oh What a Lovely War!" (musical). Not just the long great battle scene, but many scenes give the impression of going on forever, as they are so implacably sustained resulting in an overwhelming impact, like the dying corporal scene with Charles Vanel, who continued a long distinguished career in films with above Henri-Georges Clouzot in the 50s, and his death scene here is only a prelude to what follows - one can understand the veteran from that war who in 1962. when seeing the film on TV, committed suicide afterwards. It's all about ordinary men, good faithful soldiers, who keep on cheering and making the best of it as if the reality of the timeless horror was just something to accept as the ordinary, their natural cheerful moods and the irony of the absurd military self-deceit accentuating the superior quality of this film as the most realistic of first world war films.
- Jan 8, 2015
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