Monday, May 30, 2016

PATHS OF GLORY (2) vs. WESTFRONT, 1918 (7)


REALISM:  “Paths of Glory” is a realistic depiction of the state of the French army in 1916.  Although not a true story, it is an accurate indictment of French command and tactics.  The big battle is as close as a WWI movie comes to the horrors of crossing no man’s land under a torrent of shot and shell.  The subsequent court-martial of three soldiers is designed to punish the unsuccessful unit.  This is not particularly realistic, but did happen.  All of the armies used the threat of execution to “motivate” the men.  Where the movie is strongest is its portrayal of the brass.  Generals Broulard and Mireau represent the crass attitude some French generals had toward their charges.  The pigheaded frontal tactics are spot on.  The execution of men for cowardice in spite of extenuating circumstances is sadly not an aberration.  GRADE  -  A

“Westfront, 1918” does a good job enlightening the audience about conditions on the Western Front.  Director Georg Pabst was famous for his sober realism.  The trenches and no man’s land look like you might see in a documentary.  The movie adds little touches that indicate the screenwriter knew his war.  There is a messenger dog.  The soldiers spend time picking lice.  A main character gets shell shock.  GRADE  -  A

FIRST QUARTER SCORE:  Paths  -  9    Westfront  -  9

DIALOGUE:  The dialogue in “Paths” is crackling.  This is a good thing because the movie is mostly a courtroom drama which means it is dialogue driven.  Broulard is a loathsome character not just for what he does, but also for what he says.  The whole cast gets to share in the many quotable lines in the film.  When Broulard asks if his men are men or mice, Dax responds:  “If I had the choice between mice and Mausers, I’d take the mice.”  When Paris ruminates about his life prospects compared to a roach, Ferrol smashes the roach and says:  “Now you have the edge on him.”  The contrast between what the idealist Dax says with regard to the war and what the generals say leaves little doubt about the nature of the war.  GRADE  -  A+

“Westfront” is not dialogue driven.  It has a dearth of standout quotes, although the final conclusion of “it’s everyone’s fault” is a great summation of the war.  The movie is more interested in depicting the soldier experience at the front and in combat than in giving them voices.  Considering this, we can be thankful that what dialogue there is is not sappy.  The men talk like soldiers probably because many of the actors were veterans.  GRADE  -  B

HALFTIME SCORE:  Paths  -  19    Westfront  -  17

SOLDIER BEHAVIOR:  “Paths” is not a movie about soldier life.  It spends much of its time on the behavior of the commanders.  The three condemned soldiers well-represent the common poilu.  However, there is little coverage of the men in the trenches.  The behavior of the men pre-battle, during the battle, and after the battle is a tutorial on the French army in 1916.  The “lambs led to slaughter” aspect is predictive of the mutinies that roiled the army one year later.  The most telling scene is the final scene where a hooting crowd at a cantina is silenced and brought to tears by the singing of a German chanteuse.  GRADE  -  B

“Westfront” was released the same year as “All Quiet” and has similar themes.  It concentrates on a small group of men, too.  An advantage “Westfront” had was it was a German movie about German soldiers.  That might explain why it is more cynical and bitter than Milestone’s film.  It is just a matter of degree as both films are excellent in showing the bonding and comradeship that occurs in the trenches.  “Westfront” depicts the reluctance of soldiers to volunteer.  A rare occurrence in a war movie.  It also gets the exhaustion of war right.  GRADE  -  A

THIRD QUARTER SCORE:  Paths  -  27    Westfront  -  26

ENTERTAINMENT:  It is amazing that “Paths” was not a big hit when it was released.  It is a classic mainstream war movie.  It has the big battle scene for combat junkies. It is drama without the melo.  The acting is great, as is the dialogue.  It tugs the emotions of the audience effectively.  It has no weaknesses.  You are entertained when you watch it, but you also feel you have accomplished something by watching it.  It is a bucket list movie.  GRADE  -  A+

“Westfront” is also a must-see war movie.  A must-see for war movie fans.  Unlike “Paths”, it was not aimed at the general public.  Pabst could not have conceived of the project as a box office magnet.  His direction ended up making the movie very entertaining from my perspective, but the unremitting grimness reduced its allure to the average viewer.  Note that it came out the same year as “All Quiet” and yet many less people have seen it.  This is a shame, but not surprising considering that “All Quiet” is more traditionally entertaining than Pabst’s work.  Part of the reason for this is “Westfront” does not flow smoothly from scene to scene.  It is a character-centric film that lacks in character development a bit.  GRADE  -  B

FINAL SCORE:  Paths of Glory  -  37
                           Westfront, 1918  -  34

MATCH ANALYSIS:  This was a match between two of the best WWI movies.  Hopefully,  the game performance of “Westfront” will encourage more to watch it.  It probably deserved to go further in the tournament, but ran into a behemoth.  “Paths” will be tough to beat, but the upcoming categories might uncover some weaknesses.  So far, it has shown no chinks in its armor.  It is telling that both these movies offended the powers that be in the nations of the armies they depict.  Kudos to both of them for this badge of honor.   

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