René Clément directed this exceptional film which captures an important but often ignored part of the Allied war effort in WWII. It chronicles the efforts by the French railway workers to hinder the German war machine. What makes the film work wonderfully is the non-professional actors--like the Neo-realist actors in post-war Italian films (such as by DeSica and Rossellini). This gives the movie a great sense of realism--almost like a documentary that was somehow filmed as events really took place--though it was made just after the war.
The film begins sometime after the German occupation began--it's never exactly certain. During this time, random acts of sabotage occur but they are mostly annoying and are seemingly unorganized. However, partway through the film, the Resistance receives word that the Normandy invasion has occurred. Suddenly, the full extent of the French Resistance is obvious, as the entire effort to use the rails to reinforce the German army are frustrated in many, many ways--ranging from sabotaging the tracks and equipment to even attacks on the trains themselves by partisans.
"La Bataille du Rail" ("The Battle of the Rails") works very well--mostly because in addition to the non-actors working in the film, the director and writers (one of which was the director himself) used a lot of tense little vignettes in the film to draw in the viewer. Perhaps some today might find it all a bit boring (after all, they are more interested, perhaps, in seeing the newest Brandon Frazier film), but as a history teacher, I think it's a must-see! Wonderful.
By the way, you can't blame the film makers for this, but the print I saw was pretty shabby. It had a lot of scratches and the white captions were poor--blending into the scenes at times and also, occasionally, mistranslated or using jargon that is too technical (full of railroad terms and jargon). I would LOVE to see this film restored and re-captioned!
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