Wooden Crosses from France, 1932, directed by Raymond Bernard from a novel by Roland Dorgelès
The highlights of this beautifully restored but somewhat unfocused film are all centered on death. First comes the death of a soldier named Vairon (Raymond Cordy). Actually this happens so early in the film that we don’t know enough about this character to care about him But a fine moment comes when Demachy, our lead and point-of-view character (Pierre Blanchar)), takes from the mail deliverer the letter that comes to Vairon after his death. He finds Vairon’s grave in the makeshift cemetery, lays on it a small bunch of flowers he picks on the way, then tears up the unopened letter and scatters the pieces over the grave.
Then comes a mass said right next to a field hospital where we see the wounded and dying in their beds, including a man with stumps for legs.
Next the second lead (and general mentor for the platoon) is wounded in a skirmish, and all the men, including those in hiding for safety, gather round him to be with him as he dies — even the whining platoon coward. What they hear from his deathbed are his curses on his wife who he knows betrayed him. This is powerful, but like most things in the film it goes on too long.
SPOILER ALERT: Finally Demachy himself is wounded and dies alone, calling for medics to find him.
Our French unit is fighting in Champagne. The battle scenes (though not focused for us by individual characters) and some other scenes appear influenced by Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front, released the previous year. But this latter, with its clumsy acting and at times turgid melodrama, is still by far the more moving experience.
Charles Vanel also stars.
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