- May 2011
- New Iberia, La.
Both are excellent films.I can't vouch for historical accuracy, I liked these foreign war films:
Wooden Crosses (1932) French WW1 film
Fires On The Plain (1959) Japanese WW2 film. Doesn't get as much praise compared to the more sentimental Burmese Harp, this one is much bleaker (both directed by Kon Ichikawa)
WOODEN CROSSES - This is a remarkable movie. Bernard directed it with flair. He is a big fan of fades. The cinematography stands out. The night scenes are nicely lit with flares providing the eerie shadowing. There are great sound effects, but I find that most WWI movies do explosions well. The bombardments are so well done that when the first assault approaches, I found myself wondering how the Hell anyone could go out into that! The sets are fine with a realistic no man’s land. One flaw is the trenches are a bit too livable. I did not see a rat and it does not rain. There is not a lot of mud. The movie does not lay the futility of the war on thick. The soldiers have some cynicism, but they do not question the war. There is no hint of the mutiny that is coming in the French army. The movie also does not take many shots at command. Both of these omissions are a bit puzzling considering Gorgeles was a veteran. The only aspect that is clearly anti-war is the death total. Unfortunately, most of the unit are not fleshed out, other than Gilbert and Sulphart. It would take repeat viewing to figure out who is dying when. The only characters that are fully developed are the main two. Both of whom are engaging. Gilbert is steady and acts as the unit’s conscience. He is Paul Baumer from the start. Sulphart provides comic relief, but he is a good soldier and a great friend. I would hope to meet someone like him if I was sent to the front.
The outstanding thing about the film is the combat. It has both quantity and quality. I have seen enough WWI movies to assure you that they seldom have very much actual fighting. This movie manages to give good treatment to both the soldier life and the battles. The attack on the village features twelve minutes of continuous balls to the wall combat. The numerous deaths are random and not the usual cheesy overacting. At one point they are defending a cemetery (similar to a scene in “All Quiet…”) and Gilbert and Sulphart take refuge in a grave. Sulphart: “They’ll bury us alive to save time.” One of the unit gets one of the great death scenes in war movie history. His last request is for Sulphart to visit his cheating wife and spit in her face!
FIRES ON THE PLAINS - If you want to watch a horror/war movie, “Fires on the Plain” may be for you. There are other horror movies set in war, but few are based on actual events. This movie is set in the Philippines in 1945 after the American invasion. The Japanese army is on the run and in terrible shape. Director Kon Ichikawa used the novel of the same name by Shohai Ooka as his source. The book and film are meant to be surrealistically anti-war. Mission accomplished. This is a fascinating movie. There are striking images throughout. The black and white is crisp. The camera angles are interesting with Achikawa using up close facial shots and also long range shots of small figures in nightmarish landscapes. The acting is good. There is some very black humor. The most important reason to see this film is it explodes the myth that all Japanese soldiers were suicidal and refused to surrender. It was naturally controversial in Japan. Watching it will make you hungry and sad. Eat something salty, but not human.