I Accuse (1938)

  • Year: 1938
  • Released: 06 Nov 1939
  • Country: France
  • Adwords: N/A
  • IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0031503/
  • Rotten Tomatoes: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/i_accuse
  • Metacritics:
  • Available in: 720p, 1080p,
  • Language: French
  • MPA Rating: N/A
  • Genre: Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi
  • Runtime: 95 min
  • Writer: Abel Gance, Steve Passeur
  • Director: Abel Gance
  • Cast: Victor Francen, Line Noro, Sylvie Gance
  • Keywords: world war ii, soldier, ghost,
43% – Critics
43% – Audience

I Accuse Storyline

After serving in the trenches of World War I, Jean Diaz recoils with such horror that he renounces love and personal pleasure to immerse himself in scientific research, seeking a machine to prevent war. He thinks he has succeeded, but the government subverts his discovery, and Europe slides with seeming inevitability toward World War II. In desperation, Diaz summons the ghosts of the war dead from the graves and fields of France to give silent, accusing protest.—

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Englishsubtitle I Accuse (1938)

I Accuse Movie Reviews

Abel Gance is a titan.

Titan is the right word for a director who is the French equivalent of a David Wark Griffith.He borrowed from Zola his famous sentence “I accuse!” which comes from the Dreyfuss affair.(people should try to see William Dieterle’s “life of Emile Zola” which focuses on it).

“J’accuse” is one of the most convincing and impressive pacifist film of the whole history of the seven art.I’m sure its first half-hour influenced Kubrik’s “paths for glory”.There are three versions of it:the 1919 one,now forever lost,the 1922 one,with a new and watered-down ending,because of the military censors.Then the 1938 one,which is,to my mind ,the best.The historical context was so threatening that Gance’s movie seemed like a cry of terror.IT was terribly different of what was going on in the French cinema at the time :Marcel Carné used to hide his fears behind metaphors for instance

The first half-hour depicts life in the trenches.Some lines are as provoking as you can imagine.A soldier:”soon there won’t be enough trees to make crosses”.A little girl:”I want my dad to bring me back a gun to kill the war”.The armistice may come quick in the movie,but you must remember that Gance had a message to send to the world.

Armistice scenes are astounding:a bugle call resounds while the camera shows a dying soldier.The crowds rejoice as the soldiers salute the dead in voices chocked by emotion.The aftermath of war as filmed by Gance had certainly a strong influence on later movies.

The essential of the movie takes place 20 years later .A survivor,played by Victor Francen,had sworn his soldiers pals who died there would not be another war.Then he begins his incredible task.I want to insist on that:Victor Francen is so good,so sublime,that you must see this movie in French,with English subtitles.Dubbed in English,Francen ‘s tour de force would lose most of its strength.You should hear him screaming “J’accuse! J’ accuse!” People around him thinks he’s gone nuts.One breath-taking scene shows him breaking everything in sight.A sublime shot:he’s just brought under control, then a gun hanging on a wall comes down and fall.

For the last part of his movie,Gance outdoes himself;using horror movie codes,stupefying(for the time) special effects, Francen’s extraordinary tragedian skills,and an editing to rival David Wark Griffith’s “intolerance”,he leads us to believe the unbelievable.The Dead awakening will haunt you long after you’ve seen the movie.The use of the Verdun memorial and its tower make me think of movies that were yet to come!(“2001” and its monolith,for instance)

French movies had never been better than in the thirties.I wish I could find a mathematical formula to prove it.

Even in a shortened for this is a powerful cry for the end of war

(There are spoilers ahead) I saw a short American cut (75 minutes or so) of Abel Gance’s anti war film. Made on the eve of the second world war this tells the story of an inventor who survives the trenches and vows never to let war engulf the world again. Twenty years on as the world marches toward war he is horrified to discover that the same people who fought in the last war and also vowed never again are marching us toward another war.Abbreviated or not this is a kick in the head. Not so much a plea for peace as a long scream this is a film that some how transcends it’s sometimes silliness to become a something that will rattle your soul. Gance pulls no punches and tells it like it is. War sucks and the thought of ever waging it is insanity.The end of the film, where the war dead rise up is chilling. These are not people made up, these are the battle scared marching towards us in a disturbing in your face manner. I really liked the film both intellectually and emotionally. Its not perfect but it is a kick in the head and the heart. (Gance’s full version runs over two hours. I haven’t seen that version of the film, I’ve read that it includes a several characters who counterpoint the main story. I haven’t seen it so I can’t compare but this short version really made me say Wow.)

Startling and impassioned plea for peace!

Abel Gance, undoubtedly one of the greatest film-makers ever, made this extraordinary film as he saw Europe rushing toward World War 2. It is a remake of a film he made when he was in the trenches of World War 1. At its core is the magnificent performance of Victor Francen as the only survivor of a World War 1 patrol who is determined to prevent war ever happening again. With photography and amazing mis en scene, Gance evokes the waste of war and the terrible effect it has on its survivors. The climax involves Francen conjuring the dead of World War 1 to stop World War 2. This is stunningly shot and extremely powerful.

The only faults this film has is the over reliance on stock footage (I assume because of budgetary problems), and a romantic sub-plot that doesn’t quite work. But this is a true work of art – highly political and visionary, and fascinating historically. What a shame humanity didn’t listen in 1938!