Living with war/let's impeach the president (and the profiteers) Neil Young in 2006
The first thing to bear in mind is that there are actually two movies ,the 1919 silent film -and its watered-down editing of the twenties- and the 1937 talkie which is (and is not )a remake.
The silent version was filmed when the war was just over ,using real pictures of that slaughter.That was first intended as an anti -German manifesto -but only the rape scene with the big German shadow on the wall shows it-.This is the work of a pacifist ,Abel Gance,the French David Wark Griffith .The director is in the film:he is Jean Diaz -even if he does not play the part- the pacifist poet who writes an hymn to the sun (Gance already displays his love of poetry :later in a duel in "le capitaine fracasse" and in almost the whole "Cyrano and D'Artagnan" ,the actors declaim verses);Gance's depiction of a small village has the beauty of a pastoral:this quiet nature haunts him as the final pictures of "la fin du monde" (1930) bear witness.He bows to no one when it comes to direct movements in the crowd : the inhabitants of the village gathering around the decree of mobilization is a great moment.As is the "farewell scene" : Gance uses only hands on the picture and emotion reaches unbelievable peaks.
Two men are fighting in the trenches.They love the same woman ,one of them is her husband ,the other her lover (Jean Diaz).At times the movie might seem patriotic -which the remake was not at all- but Gance manages to show his disgust with war.The subtitles include moving real soldiers' letters to their family.His hero becomes mad and he thinks that soldiers should write lots of letters so that their wives would receive news long before they were dead.When he comes back to his village ,the film suddenly turns supernatural,and that's Gance's genius ,one of the most famous scenes in the French cinema,which will be even more impressive in the remake:here anger gives Gance the strength of ten.Let the Dead rise from their graves! War casualties' rise from the grave will haunt the viewer till his death."Your dead will come back,Diaz says,and they "ll ask you for an explanation! Shame on you ,unfaithful wives, war profiteers , politicians and president!A dance macabre, a skeletons' dance in a ring had already warned us.
The 1937 remake -by no means inferior to the silent work- had to be different:Hitler had come to power and as Jean Renoir said that very year ,"we are on the verge of a "grande illusion" .So Gance 's snatches of patriotism had disappeared and been replaced by strength born from despair .The 1937 "J'accuse" was a distraught plea for an universal peace ,and, in spite of its grandiloquence,it still stands today as one of the greatest pacifist works of all time.Besides ,the coming of sound allowed Gance to include ferocious lines (such as : "pretty soon ,there won't be enough wood to make crosses" ) A question I will always ask myself:I wrote it in my comment on "Austerlitz" :why was a convinced pacifist such as Gance so fascinated by a warrior like Napoleon (to whom he devoted two works)?
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