A gripping and shocking documentary composed of numerous colorized archive footage. Apocalypse: Verdun takes us to the infamous and bloody battle of Verdun that occurred in February 1916, when World War I had been raging for two years.
In his book, "D Day," historian Stephen Ambrose comments on the sullenness of the French civilians in Normandy, compared to the sunny reception they gave the Allies landing on the South Coast of France. It's presented as a regional difference in character.
In the feature film, "The Longest Day," when the naval bombardment begins, a farmer and his wife stand in a house that is being demolished piece by piece, and the farmer is dancing and singing with joy.
This particular series, "D-Day Sacrifice", offers a valuable corrective to such prevailing myths. The French and the occupying Germans had been together for four years and had adjusted to one another in a quiet area. But for weeks before the landings, the entire northern coast of France was heavily bombed in an attempt to destroy German communication centers, roads, and railways yards. During the landings, a fleet of heavy bombers was sent against the German fortifications on the beach but were ordered to delay their release for 30 seconds to avoid injuring the Allied troops. The bombs landed among the French farms and villages, leaving fields filled with the carcasses of cows. In the following days, the ancient Norman city of Caen was flattened by bombs, losing 3.5% of its population. The battle of Normandy caused the death of an estimated 14,000 civilians in just the three departments of Basse Normandie. Churchill asked that the bombing be limited but Eisenhower felt that civilian casualties were unavoidable. So the civilians were "sullen" and probably few farmers celebrated with dance and song while their homes were being turned to rubble. The tragedy of the civilian population gets fair treatment here.
It's an interesting program in other ways, not cynical in any way, but certainly not a flag waver. Little attention is given to the movements of units, and few maps are used. All of it is combat and newsreel footage. It's all colorized, but the techniques seem to be vastly improved over earlier techniques. It's not surprising that some of the footage hasn't been seen before, as unlikely as that sounds. But there's a reason why it's seen so rarely. Blankets are folded around dead bodies; the deck of a landing craft is befouled with blood and tissue. An eight-year-old kid wearing a beret and cheerfully smoking a cigarette. There are no talking heads, only excerpts from what I take to be personal diaries. It's very candid without being "revisionist" in the negative sense. The film director, Sam Fuller, an enlisted man in the First Infantry Division, is represented in some typically hard-boiled statements. A quote from Kay Summersby, General Eisenhower's driver, describes their physical romance. It's hard to imagine Eisenhower whispering sweet nothings into his driver's ear as they lie in bed, but here it is.
There are some gentle touches in the quotes. A sixteen-year-old French boy and his family just behind Juno Beach are overjoyed to see the Allied soldiers. The troops passed out candy and cigarettes ("Sweet Caporal", notes the boy) and they are delighted when they find that the soldiers aren't the expected British or American but Canadian, and that many of them speak French with a Canadian accent. And the time line between then and now is lengthy enough to have dissolved enmities, so that the faces of the dead -- both Allied and German -- are pixillated out.
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