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J'accuse! (1919)

The story of two men, one married, the other the lover of the other's wife, who meet in the trenches of the First World War, and how their tale becomes a microcosm for the horrors of war.

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Cast

Credited cast:
...
Maxime Desjardins ...
Maria Lazare
...
Angèle Guys ...
Angele
Maryse Dauvray ...
Mancini ...
Jean's Mother
Elizabeth Nizan
Pierre Danis
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Blaise Cendrars
Paul Duc ...
Orphan
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Storyline

The story of two men, one married, the other the lover of the other's wife, who meet in the trenches of the First World War, and how their tale becomes a microcosm for the horrors of war.

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Genres:

Drama | Horror | War

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Release Date:

25 April 1919 (France)  »

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J'accuse!  »

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(tinted)

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1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Filmed in part on the battlefield of St. Mihiel, during battle. See more »

Quotes

Title Card: Chance does not like secrets.
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Connections

Featured in Historia del cine: Epoca muda (1983) See more »

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User Reviews

The cinematic phantoms of Verdun
28 April 2012 | by (Greece) – See all my reviews

Here's why I deem this the most important film of the first 20 years; DW Griffith also had a lofty message to impart in Intolerance, but his Victorian saga of humanism through the ages was removed from life, unfolding in the shadow of gigantic Hollywood sets for Babylon or in Judea at the time of Christ. It was comfortably nudged in its archaic pulpit. This is important to understand, by contrast. J'Accuse is not a historical epic on WWI. Gance was drafted in the French Army's Section Cinématographique, was discharged for ill-health, but appalled at the horror of the experience, decided to re-enlist and make a film about it. He filmed actual war booming away through the country, actual soldiers on leave from the front and expected back within days.

Oh, the bulk of the film away from the trenches is old-fashioned melodrama, likely to leave the modern viewer cold. What does hold power, is that it is about war inspiring Gance to make the film denouncing war.

See, our protagonist is an artist. Like Gance, he is a poet committed to pacifism and blessed with the gift of granting vision, look at the poem he recites to his elderly mother, rendered in silent images, the sun rising over heaving seas. This is a great moment, later repeated for contrast in the midst of muddy war.

So, the poet enlists in the army to save a girl he loves but is not his, not solely his at any rate, and is really the whole of France. This all preamble of course - a man who grants visions brought to where visions are possible, the mad theater of war. The most celebrated moment in the film is an actual vision, a poem he recites for an audience back home which has gathered to listen about life in the trenches.

It is the rousing sight of the dead rising from the battlefield.

Gance used for the scene 2000 soldiers who had come straight from Verdun and were due back eight days later. You have to appreciate the chilling significance of this. Gance was staging death for these people, and death that both parties could not have failed to know was a rehearsal for the real thing. Within weeks of their return, the majority of the soldiers were dead as presaged in the film.

So death staged for an audience gathered round back home, at the behest of this poet - now raving mad - who conjures a vision of cinematic phantoms, the dead gaunt and in clutches and tatters getting up from shallow graves to march all the way back and haunt the living. They Accuse! ungrateful parents, wives, brothers, who have not honored the sacrifice.

The maelstrom of self-reflexive notions was one of the most advanced things going on at the time, I was surprised really. Gance would go on to invent a new visual grammar with La Roue, and first inklings of that we see here in the rapid-fire cutting and agile camera in the battle scenes that reflect the anxious mobility tearing through Europe, that was really the fight for a modern world.


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