Thursday, July 30, 2015

Paths of Glory (1957)

This week is the 101st anniversary of the beginning of World War I.  So today we are watching Paths of Glory.  In the first years of the war, the soldiers engaged in trench warfare, meaning they dug trenches and shot each other over an area called "no man's land" and didn't really accomplish anything except mass casualties.  The movie takes place during this time.

In France, the soldiers are busily fighting against the Germans, but remember everyone's still in the trenches.  General Mireau of the French army has been promised a promotion if his army can take over Ant Hill, which is controlled by the Germans.  Of course he says they could do it in one day without any backup.  He goes to order the colonel of the troops, Col. Dax to launch the attack.  We also learn Colonel Dax, played by Kirk Douglas, was an excellent criminal defense lawyer before the war.  Will this knowledge come in handy?

So, the next day, the French army storms across the no man's land to take over the hill and get obliterated.  Of course they did, they're French. They should be used to losing battles.  But apparently not.  Half of them can't even leave the trench because they're being beaten so bad.  General Mireau orders another group to fire upon the trenches, but they refuse to shoot their own men.  This just makes him even madder.

General Mireau tells them to pick out three men and have them tried for cowardice.  This is where Col. Dax being a lawyer comes into play.  He tries his best, but the trial is really just for show.  So the men are sentenced to die.  Later, Dax tells the higher up, General Broulard, that General Mireau threatened to fire upon his own troops and he's like whaaa.  But, he's not going to overturn the conviction, because that would be like admitting that the army was wrong, and he's not going to do that.

One thing that lets you know this took place long ago is the fact they were in trouble for cowardice.  In the beginning, General Mireau yells at a traumatized soldier and tells him there is no such thing as shellshock.  Well, there is, and now it is called post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and it still affects many people today, both soldiers and civilians.  Men are supposed to be brave and strong and not afraid of anything.  I feel bad for them because they couldn't even ask for help because even admitting they need help would be admitting they were a "coward".  In real life, thousands of men were tried for desertion and cowardice.  There are more steps taken to take care of soldiers affected by PTSD but even 100 years later, we still have a long way to go.

General Broulard offers Dax General Mireau's position, but he refuses it.  He goes back to see his troops inside a cafe gawking at a German woman onstage and he's like oh boy here we go.  But, she starts singing the song "The faithful Hussar (soldier)" in German and all the French soldiers start singing along with her.  For a moment, they're not German or French people who are enemies, they're just people.  This woman is supposed to be the enemy but she's never hurt anyone ever, meanwhile their own General just killed three of their friends for his own reputation.  Colonel Dax watches them and decides to wait longer before sending them back out to be killed in the trenches.  I will give this film an 8/10.

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