J’Accuse (1938)

J’Accuse (1938)

“I accuse yesterday’s war of creating today’s Europe. And I accuse tomorrow’s war of preparing its destruction.”

A traumatized World War I veteran (Victor Francen) watches over the widow (Line Noro) and daughter (Renee Devillers) of his lost compatriot (Marcel Delaitre), vowing to create a machine that will prevent all future wars — but when his plans are foiled, he takes even more extreme measures to remind the world about the horrors of fighting.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Fantasy
  • French Films
  • Veterans
  • World War I

Abel Gance remade and expanded upon his 1919 silent film of the same name, this time spending much less time on the initial love triangle linking Francen’s character to cuckolded Delaitre (whose wife he had an affair with years earlier), though we do still see a powerful image of the two men (now friends; Delaitre has forgiven Francen) holding hands in solidarity while lying in recovery:

The primary focus of the first half-hour of the film is on how war is so horrible it can’t possibly happen again — right? (“There will never be another war, I’m telling you.”)

Because Delaitre is unable to keep his promise, he descends even further into his PTSD-induced madness, leading to the film’s evocative final act, when once again — as at the end of the 1919 version — the dead are risen from their graves.

It’s a powerful finale (“Immediate disarmament has been unanimously declared!”), and one only wishes it approximated the truth.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Victor Francen as Jean Diaz
  • Highly atmospheric cinematography
  • Powerful imagery and special effects in the final sequences

Must See?
No, but it’s certainly worth a look. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.


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