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 »
Based on the award-winning novel by Marc Dugain, La Chambre des Officiers aka The Officers' Ward barely made a ripple outside France, but it's one of the best films about World War One made in recent years despite its young hero Adrien (Eric Caravaca) never even reaching the frontline before he suffers horrify disfiguring injuries. Much of the early part of the film is shot from his point-of-view in his hospital bed, his injuries unseen, avoiding the very worst of his disfigurement while making its severity and his own confusion all too clear: like him, all we see is Sabine Azema's maternal nurse (genuinely rather wonderful in a part that could have been horrendously mawkish), Andre Dussollier's doctor and his immediate surroundings - a closed ward without mirrors...
The First World War saw huge advances in plastic surgery - originally intended for victims of horrifying war wounds rather than for the vanity of those with too much money - and although the film only briefly touches on the fact that enlisted men were not nearly so lucky as those guinea pigs who had the benefit of an officer's rank, it does bring home the forgotten lasting damage war does to its victims. Adrien spends five years having his face only partially reconstructed - longer than the war itself lasts - and the film chronicles his and the other patients in the ward's slow journey back towards hope from suicidal despair as their lives are gradually rebuilt to prepare them for a world where the same people who once cheered them off to war will now turn away at the mere sight of their damaged faces. Yet it's not as bleak as you might think. There's an increasingly healthy sense of black humor among the patients even as they cling on to hollow hopes (in Adrien's case a one-night stand with a woman he met at the train station before shipping out to the front), the film dropping the novel's epilogue following the hero to the end of the Second World War in favor of a final scene not in the book but which is both playful and touching: without spoiling it, it's a moment of pure childlike sentiment that manages to be quietly wonderful without breaking faith with the enormity of the subject matter.
Some have found that the film is tedious, and certainly Francois Dupeyron's film isn't for all tastes: while never overlong, it's a film that takes its time and while never feeling like a chamber piece it's certainly one that concentrates on character over action. The sepia/caramel tint to the Scope photography can be a bit overdone at times as well, but it's a film whose simple human and humane strengths more than compensate for its occasional weaknesses.
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