Whilst war was mainly glorified in early cinema (often in the name of propaganda), there’s always been a strong seam of pacifistic film making. The most famous of examples are Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion and Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet On The Western Front. Whilst anti-war films really came into their own during the Vietnam War, it’s perhaps films about the follies of World War I which hold the most resonance. Wooden Crosses (Les croix de bois) is Raymond Bernard’s critique of futility of war.
A new draftee and full of patriotic fervour, idealistic student Demachy (Pierre Blanchard) has a shock when he reaches the front. Joining a group of veterans, he soon finds himself embroiled in the world of trench warfare. When not being penned down for days on end by enemy bombardment, they’re having to live with the fact that their trench is being mined from below. Demachy’s initial enthusiasm slowly wanes, and as he watches his comrades die, he becomes disillusioned about what he’s fighting for.
Wooden Crosses remains a powerful and moving critique on the futility of war. Whilst it’s far lesser known than La Grande Illusion, it’s equally disturbing and thought-provoking. Raymond Bernard does a brilliant job of conveying the confinement and hopelessness of trench life, along with some absolutely astounding battle scenes for the time. So good in fact that some of the footage was used in later films. Wooden Crosses is up there with La Grande Illusion and All Quiet On The Western Front as one of the best anti-war films ever made.
Special Edition Contents:
New HD 1080p presentation of the film from Pathé’s astonishing 2014 4K restoration
Optional English subtitles
Video interview with historian Marc Ferro and film historian Laurent Veray
A short documentary on the new restoration
Wooden Crosses: A Sonic Adventure, documentary exploring early sound design
Archival interview with Roland Dorgelès
Archival interview with director Raymond Bernard
Vintage 1914 newsreels
Documentary piece on early 20th century poster artist Adrien Barrère
The Absent Battle, the Omnipresent War, a collection of photography from WWI taken by André Schnellbach who served with Dorgelès in the 39th
Booklet featuring a new and exclusive interview by film critic Emmanuel Burdeau, and rare archival material
Wooden Crosses is released on Dual Format by Eureka as part of their Masters Of Cinema Collection on March 30.