Our selection of 12 war movies to watch

Ukraine on fire, the Cannes Film Festival presents Loznica’s documentary “Natural History of Destruction”, and the smell of burning hovers in the air. Military cinema can be described in one word: hell. A common place in Hollywood, Soviet or Italian battlefields, this cinematic Gehenna saw John Wayne as a massacre hero (but with a big heart), Lee Marvin as a gossip (but also with a big heart), Nikolai Cherkasov as a ruthless prince (but a clairvoyant) or Lore and Hardy as pie throwers (it’s a war with cream). The genre is actually cinematic, very dramatic and perfectly spectacular. What could be more beautiful than a beautiful explosion or a sublime charge with a humanistic message that reconciles viewers and critics? Everyone has their own list of war movies. Here is ours.

Albert Diodonne in “Napoleon” by Abel Hans.

1“Napoleon” Abel Hans (1927). The apogee of silent cinema, a grand saga, mutilated, re-edited, restored, glued, the film was shot in bursts (the producer went bankrupt), filmed with eighteen cameras, projected on a triple screen and cut rolling stock over the years. When we saw the 5:30 version in 2000, what a shock! Abel Hans was dead for twenty years.

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2 • “ There is nothing new in the west “ Lewis Milestone (1930). Erich Maria Remarque’s bestseller, adapted by the Odessa-born director, enlisted in the US Army in 1917. One of the first conversational films, praised for “realism” (quite unrealistic, but very effective) and banned by the Nazis. Three more versions will be shot, but none will be as successful.

3 The Great Illusion » Jean Renoir (1937). Jean Gabin, Pierre Frenet and Eric von Stroheim confront each other, watch each other and discover each other in the fortress-prison during the First World War. Renoir and his screenwriter Charles Spaak explore the humanity of the heroes in the inhuman universe. The film was banned from Vichy and destroyed. The Russians preserved it, keeping a copy in Moscow.

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4 Alexander Nevsky » Sergei Eisenstein (1938). Pure patriotic propaganda, but what propaganda! Alexander Nevsky fights with unforgettable insults against the Teutonic Knights, and the enemy army drowns in an icy lake. The German-Soviet pact of 1939 will force the film off the bill. Two hours of Stalin’s heroism, sublime plasticity of images and, ironically, let’s not forget that Nevsky was the prince of Kiev.

5 • “ The third person “ Carol Reed (1949). War after war. In Allied-occupied Vienna, Joseph Cotten tracks down Orson Welles, his former friend who has become a villain. One of those films that fascinates the audience, with music by Anton Karas and the last shot of Alida Valli in the cemetery. Graham Green, the screenwriter, wanted to convey a sense of sin. Failed: melancholy dominates.

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6 • “ Eroica » Andrzej Munk (1958). Unknown and rare film. Disappointed humor for two stories: about a cuckold who is an envoy of the Polish Resistance, and about a fake hero in a prison camp. A devastating look at the comic absurdity of war.

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7 • “ Soldier’s Ballad » Gregory Chukhrai (1959). Yes, it’s a melody. Yes, it’s sentimental. Yes, this soldier in love will not return … Chukray was crowned “Soviet People’s Artist”, and he was in line. But, despite this, the film is lyrical, with breath and emotion. Detail (again): the director was Ukrainian.

8 • “ The Great War “ Mario Monicelli (1959). Alberto Sordi and Vittorio Gassman, quite the opposite, find themselves at the front in 1916, and their heroism is pure facade: they are cowards. Monicelli, immediately after the Dove, is a master of caustic irony. Bernard Blier passes by, and Silvana Mangano brings a moment of grace to this extremely bitter comedy.

Jacques Perrin in Pierre Shendorfer's
Jacques Perrin in Pierre Shendorfer’s “Chapter 317”.

9 • “ 317and section “ Pierre Shendorfer (1965). One of the rare French films about Indochina. Shendorffer knows what he is talking about: he was with Dien Bien Phu. Filmed as a documentary, it is one of the most notable films of its kind, and the director was classified as a “militarist” at the time. That was nonsense. The film is a masterpiece, period.

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10 • “ Shadow Army » Jean-Pierre Melville (1969). Melville was a true hero of the Resistance, and transposing Kessel’s novel, he impresses with his brilliant tone. The film reviewed today has not lost an ounce, but even gained relevance. Lino Ventura, Simone Signore and Paul Morris on top. We never get tired of seeing them.

11 • “ Journey to the end of hell » Michael Chimino (1978). During the screening of the film at the Berlin Film Festival in 1979, half of the hall was devastated: representatives of Eastern European countries and the so-called progressive countries (Cuba, Algeria) believed that Chimino offended the Vietnamese people. More than forty years have passed: the film is even better.

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12 • “ The Fall of the Black Falcon » Ridley Scott (2001). At the heart of the war, in its worst form: the city battle. Ridley Scott is a master of storytelling. We have never filmed atrocities, courage, uselessness, blood and metal with such perfection. The director knocks down all the codes: suddenly John Wayne is old.

Other names? Here it is, wholesale: Kwai River Bridge • Sergeant York • Canal • Ivan’s Youth • MASH • 1917 “1917” • Grand Parade • Casablanca • Open City of Rome • Dr. Strangelove • Dr. Strangelove Men are against ”•“ Life and nothing more ”•“ Ways of glory ”•“ Apocalypse now ”•“ Inglorious freaks ”… Choose.

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