J’ACCUSE (I ACCUSE)
I ACCUSE (J’ACCUSE!) is not only one of the most technically innovative and elaborate films of its time, but has also entered film history as one of the first pacifist works. Abel Gance, who was discharged from military service in 1917, was able to start shooting his film during the war with the support of the military. Gance reported that he recruited extras for crowd scenes from a camp where soldiers were recovering for eight days from the Battle of Verdun, before being sent back to the front. The film visualises the madness of war with metaphorical symbolism, expressive imagery and montage sequences. The death of soldiers is not idealised or dramatically exaggerated. Instead, soldiers act as witnesses to the horror and futility of war, which is meant to shake up the audience. The film tells the story of François and Edith, who are married and live in a village in Provence. François suspects Jean of having an affair with his wife. When the war breaks out, both men fight together at the front in the same battalion, while Edith falls into the hands of the Germans and is raped.
“The Somme film has proved a mighty instrument in the service of recruiting; the newspapers still talk of its astounding realism, and it is generally admitted that the great kinematograph picture has done much to help the people of the British Empire to realise the wonderful spirit of our men in the face of almost insuperable difficulties; the splendid way in which our great citizen army has been organised; the vastness of the military machine we have created during the last two and a half years; and the immensity of the task which still faces us. (...) Mr. Lloyd George, after witnessing a display of the film, sent forth the following thrilling message to the nation: ‘Be up and doing! See that this picture, which is in itself an epic of self-sacrifice and gallantry, reaches every one. Herald the deeds of our brave men to the ends of the earth. This is your duty.’”
(Lieut. Geoffrey H. Malins: How I Filmed the War; Herbert Jenkins Ltd., London 1920)
Director of the Film Museum in Munich
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