Wooden Crosses (1932)
This film jumped back to the top of the film cue. I love this film a great deal. Watching it again I found it kept telling me that I needed to post something here about it. Since there is little to add to what I've written before, I'm carrying over a review I posted at LJ in the hope it moves you to see the film.
Based on a biographical novel concerning life during WW1 this is included in the Raymond Bernard Box set from Eclipse (ie. Criterion). Made in 1932 the film seems to have been made years later. The technical aspects of the film are astounding. a blending of silent and sound techniques with images that foreshadow the Hollywood films of the 1940's, the war documentaries of the second world war not to mention modern films such as Saving Private Ryan and the Thin Red Line this film for the most part doesn't feel 75 years old.
The plot follows a company of men from enlistment to the end. After a slow start where the film introduces everyone and we get a feel for the characters the movie moves to the trenches and battle where we are placed into harms way with the men we have been introduced to. What follows are essentially a series of set pieces that move the men further and further in to war's nightmare. There is a sequence where the men wait in the trenches and in one bunker in particular, where they can hear the German tunneling below them to place charges which will, when detonated blow them to kingdom come. Its an unnerving sequence since the men know whats coming but are unable to do anything about it- except hope that their rotation comes before the bombs go off. The centerpiece of the film is an never ending attack, on ward and onward and onward. How could anyone do such a thing? As a title card say the attack lasted for ten days. I was exhausted by the sequence and it lasted only for twenty or so minutes. Its an amazing piece of film making.
If there is a flaw in the film its that the dialog sequences seem more Hollywood convention (if you'll allow me to say about a film made in France). The group of men are your standard bunch and they all seem to get lost. Not that it ruins the film, it doesn't, it just keeps the film from having that complete emotional connection.
Rightly considered a classic film, this is must viewing for anyone who loves the cinema.