Tuesday, November 17, 2009

J'accuse: Abel Gance

LFF: Abel Gance's epic anti-war statement, 'J'accuse', was the first great pacifist film, to put alongside such classics as 'The Big Parade' and 'All Quiet on the Western Front'. It was also the first major statement in artistic terms condemning the insanity of WW1, and it remains a potently angry indictment of mindless military ambition and aggression. Gance himself, who had experienced the loss of many friends in the War and witnessed its futility at first hand, called it a 'modern tragedy...a human cry against the bellocise din of armies'. Like Gance's other masterpieces, 'La Roue' and 'Napoleon', it was boldly experimental and innovative, and was a huge box-office success, in Britain and North America as well as in France. This new, colour-tinted restoration by the Netherlands Film Museum, in collaboration with Lobster Films, is therefore both timeley (when would it not be?) and welcome, drawing upon six different print sources from archives around the world. The story concerns a pacifist poet, Jean, in love with Edith, who is married to Francois. Both man join the army. Edith is captured and raped by German soldiers, deported and has a child. Francois is killed, while Jean, shell-shocked and driven insane, evokes the ghosts of the war dead in a climactic sequence of unique visual impact, heightened by the appalling irony that 80% of the soldier-extras enlisted lost their lives days later at Verdun. A film of lasting power and relevance.

MGP: What a difference! A single pianist who doubled on the flute and made direct use of the interior of the instrument for effect gave a brilliant example of how a silent film should accomapnied - with relevance and feeling. Of course, the film in question is far superior to the afforts of Anthony Asquith nine years leter. Starting as a tale of unrequited love immediately before World War 1, the gradual change in attitude between Jean and Francois is a skilled demonstration of the way that the
stresses of front-line warfare can produce comradeship that can outweigh previous enmity. The fictional scenes of battle are interwoven with newsreel footage to good effect but the great strength lies in the episode after Jean has returned home to berate those in his village - 'J'accuse' - for accepting the war and its slaughter with his calling of the dead from the battelfield to support him. This scene alone raises the film well above the ordinary and makes up for the less successful use of animated skeletons of death overlying some scenes. A great film.

1 comment:

pppatty said...

Great yes, but far too long...and some of the melodramatics were really a load of old tosh. I'm thinking particularly about the shame of the illegitimate child and the various characters' reactions to this.