The first days of WWI. Adrien, a young and handsome lieutenant, is wounded by a piece of shrapnel. He will spend the entire wartime at the Val-de-Grâce Hospital, in Paris. Five long years, ...
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The first days of WWI. Adrien, a young and handsome lieutenant, is wounded by a piece of shrapnel. He will spend the entire wartime at the Val-de-Grâce Hospital, in Paris. Five long years, and his life will change forever... Written by
When Adrien is passing through the village there is a British 18-pounder field gun visible in the background. The British were not involved in the fighting yet at this stage. The French relied almost exclusively on their "75s" and almost certainly did not use British guns. See more »
Having found so much recent French cinema disappointing, I am always pleased to record the discovery of something really fine. Although "The Officers' Ward" belongs to the category of lengthy literary adaptaions, it is infinitely better than examples such as "Germinal", "Les Destinees Sentimentales" or the much hyped Pagnol films which I found particularly over-rated. An anti-war film dealing with facial disfigurement incurred in time of conflict, it chronicles one man's pain and his long period of adjustment to the way he physically presents to the world. In a sense his wound is inflicted not so much by being engaged in battle (he is on a reconnaissance sortie) but by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The other irony is that in the few scenes when we get to know the officer, Adrien, before his injury, he is presented in a none too sympathetic way as a rather boorish and selfish womaniser. In a way his disfigurement offers him a chance of redemption and it is his journey towards this state that gives the film its considerable power. Not that the end result is perfect: there is rather too much concentration on peripheral detail. What is in essence a chamber film is too often broadened out to encompass for example the grand sweep of the journey of the injured from the field to the hospital or to comment on the social injustice of the special treatment of the officer class compared with the rank-and-file. Perhaps too much concentration on conveying atmosphere, however beautifully done, detracts from what in the hands of a director as austere as Bresson for instance would have been an undoubted masterpiece. Nevertheless there is sufficient in Francois Dupeyron's work to assure it a place among the "top ten" of its year, the skill for instance with which the director only allows us imagine what Adrien must look like by observing the reactions on the faces of those who see him, so that by the time half-way through that we are actually given a glimpse we know exactly what to expect as we did in the case of "The Elephant Man". That and two wonderfully moving scenes, one where the three disfigured patients in the officers' ward, who until then have suffered in their own private worlds, suddenly become aware of each other and another where Adrien on his release into the the outside world manages to transform a little girl's fear at his appearance into something approaching fun by making their encounter in a train into a game. In moments such as these the film touches greatness.
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