Wooden Crosses (aka Les Croix de Bois)
Dir: Raymond Bernard
Scrs: Raymond Bernard, André Lang
Phos: Jules Kruger, René Ribault
Ed: Lucienne Grumberg
Prod Co.: Pathé-Natan
Cast: Pierre Blanchar, Gabriel Gabrio, Charles Vanel, Raymond Aimos, Antonin Artaud
France / 1932 / B&W / DCP / French / English Subtitles / 115min
Made in direct response to All Quiet On The Western Front (1930), Raymond Bernard's adaptation of Roland Dorgeles' autobiographical novel chronicles the similarly bleak experiences of French troops fighting on the other side of the wire. Lewis Milestone's haunting final image of German recruits marching directly into heaven is immediately challenged by Bernard, who opens Wooden Crosses with soldiers dissolving into a field of graves. Bernard's men are denied even posthumous salvation, instead condemned to the cold mud of the battlefield for all eternity.
Following a group of newly enlisted men who join out of patriotic duty, the film charts their growing disillusionment when faced with the reality of life on the front lines. Bernard stages a number of vivid, documentary-real battle sequences, including the gruelling 10-day siege of a small town, and the impending terror as the men listen to the Germans tunnelling beneath their own trench. Their commanding officers order them to maintain their positions, even as they realise explosives are being laid beneath them.
Wooden Crosses proved such a success in France that it was quickly acquired by 20th Century Fox. But instead of releasing it, the studio determined an English language remake would fare better with American audiences. Howard Hawks eventually turned out The Road To Glory (1936), which Dorgeles accused of plagiarism, while sequences from the French original were inserted into a number of other Hollywood films, including Cavalcade (1933) and The World Moves On (1934). Meanwhile, Bernard's pacifist masterpiece remained unseen outside France for decades.
Presented by Pathé and the Fondation Jérôme Seydoux – Pathé. The film was scanned and restored in 4K by the laboratory L'Immagine Ritrovata Bolognain in 2014. The restored version was premiered in Festival de Cannes in May 2014.
||Cinema, Hong Kong Film Archive
Post-screening talk with Lau Yam
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