The German troops are entering the Meuse. The French soldier calmly awaits the shock. All the villages have been evacuated; wives have been torn apart from their husbands, who stay to defend the land the old farmer won't abandon. The German offensive takes place on February 21st, 1916. Following intense bombing from 7.15 am to 5 pm, flocks of German soldiers dash through the bois des Caures.
In the early 1930's a promotional booklet for the film was published. The booklet contained many stills and photographs from the film. Over the years, these photo's were taken for real and are featured in very much books about World War I and the battle of Verdun. The most famous one is a French man who gets hit in front of the camera. The booklet is re-released in the dvd-set for the film in November 2006 See more »
classic of docufiction/classic of naturalitisc cinema
It is a shade shocking to find how little known this film is. It is a highly important exercise in docufiction, of a very different kind but in its way just as important as Benjamin Christensen's great films Haxan of 1922 and it is a hugely important example of European "naturalistic" style (tinged with impressionism, which might be described as an intensified from of naturalism) that can be seen at it very best in the European films of the late 1920s both in documentaries (city symphonies like Ruttmann's Berlin and Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera) and in the photoplay (The films of André Antoine and Jean Epstein, Gance's La Roue and Napoléon, Kirsanoff's Ménilmontant, the "Ziller" films of Gerhard Lamprecht, Robert Siodmak's Menschen am Sonntag, Murnau's Der letzte Mann).
There is an important continuum here between naturalism and so-called "impressionism" which is often overlooked by seeing "French impressionists" rather falsely in isolation as a separate "movement" (David Bordwell, typically) rather than appreciating the links back (particularly to the films of Albert Capellani in France) and the links forward (to Jean Vigo and "poetic realism"), and the links laterally to equivalent developments in say Swedish and Italian and even Japanese film, a broader perspective that places the films of this period in the absolute mainstream of European (as opposed to US) cinema.
The defence of Verdun is an iconic moment of the Great War (now nearly forgotten? by whom? not in France, my friend). Despite the film's attempts at objectivity it is inevitably in the context a somewhat patriotic (some understandable cocorico's particularly towards the end) and mildly sentimental account (and there is a quite deliberate impressionistic "subjectivity" built in, as it were, to the objectivity) but it nevertheless succeeds remarkably well at approaching a kind of "truth" cinema entirely different from the formally realistic and intentionally untruthful US model. Notable for instance are the markedly unpropagandist representations of the Germans. Of course "truth" will always remain relative and elusive but the intention of the film-making is here all-important.
Excellently restored in 2006 (and thank goodness we have the silent not the sonorised version), it is a film that should be on everyone's playlist.
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