The war cinema has aroused the interest of viewers, practically, since the birth of the seventh art. There are numerous conflicts that have been brought to the big screen, although, due to the influence of the media, and turning to the Western sounding board, we tend to visit commonplaces as spectators. These are, mainly, films that deal with conflicts in which the US has been involved or, in our case, approximations of national invoice (or not) to the Spanish Civil War. Among the wide range of warfare from which we can choose (unfortunately), the First World War It stands out, even, having so close to that monster that shaped our current world that was its unfortunate sequel. And it is that his relationship with the cinema, which began during its development, has extended over time, reaching our days, and showing itself as a recurring theme to which it is always interesting to return.
Therefore, today, we are going to take a moment to recommend 10 of the best movies about the First World War. The chosen ones have been these, but they could well have been others. You know, this list thing will never stop being attractive, but if you keep in mind the history of cinema as a whole (and I’m not just talking about Hollywood) it will never make much sense either. And it is that, in fact, essential pieces have been left out here such as the big parade (King Virador, 1925) and king and country (Joseph Losey, 1964), among many others. So, as always, I invite you to take this list as a hymn to curiosity, which is in no way dogmatic, and which will always remain open to debate. With that said, here go my ten.
All Quiet at the Front (Lewis Milestone, 1930)
We start with a classic among classics, a movie mythical, heartbreaking and morbid, whose rawness and realism leave, in the memory, one of those residues that last over time. It is true that you have to go with the glasses of the time (it would be missing more), but its strength lies, above all, in its validity as a social work capable of impacting and attracting the current viewer. His sound section deserves a special mention, displaying an unusual complexity for the time and contributing, decisively, to the sensation of crudeness that his vision of war transmits at all times. Don’t expect a romantic or exciting speech, All Quiet on the Front is, in fact, an eminently anti-war work, and one of the great ones. Its impact is such that, by the way, I am going to allow myself to cheat and also recommend the 1979 TV version, signed by Delbert Mann. I can’t say much about the current version, the one from 2022 (Edward Berger), since I haven’t had the pleasure yet, but it’s not bad either.
Lawrence de Arabia (David Lean, 1962)
Seven Oscars, two years of filming and a massive budget, this is how the adaptation of the memoirs of one of the great British adventurers of the early 20th century is presented; YOU Lawrence. Lawrence de Arabia It is, surely, one of the great works in the history of cinema and, as such, it could not be missing from this humble list. We talk about more than three and a half hours of pure audiovisual hypnosis. An amazing and vast film in which David Lane adds brilliance to each sequence, enhancing the performance of a Peter O’Toole that completely absorbed the character. As an exemplary work of adventure cinema, does not give up in its efforts to change its tones and present beautiful and exotic images, combined with great action sequences. Essential.
1917 (Sam Mendes, 2019)
Sam Mendes bequeathed, with 1917, a whole lesson in audiovisual language. Such a beautiful and beautiful movie, with a unique aesthetic plasticity, which is overwhelming both for its prints and for its story. One that, in the great act that was the Great War, descends towards the personal, limiting the viewer’s field of vision, and sticking the camera to the mud, the blood and the suffering of two soldiers, in such a way that it is overwhelming. there has a lot to say Roger Deakins (director of photography), who proves capable of keeping up with the risky staging of the film. Although the performance of Mackay and Chapman, both excellent, should not be detracted from. New classic.
Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick, 1957)
We continue with another big one, with Kubrick and his Paths of Glory. after filming Perfect Heist (1956), the New York director attracted the attention of influential figures such as Dore Schary (MGM production manager) or Kirk Douglas. From there, a relationship arose between Kubrick and Douglas that made possible the production of the film at hand. With a marked anti-militarist discourse, the film builds a text that demolishes the false myths of war heroism. His famous tracking shot over the trenches, as well as the emotion emanating from his final act, are manifest examples of the meticulousness and virtuosity that accompanied the director throughout his career. For some, despite being one of his first works, it represents the pinnacle of his filmography. But Kubrick’s filmography is so rich that the debate arises naturally.
The Great War (Mario Monicelli, 1959)
It is already known, history is written by the victors -or filmed, rather-. Therefore, while Hollywood and the European film industry understood the First World War as an interesting conflict to return to, in Italy it was a subject to avoid. The casualties of the Mediterranean country numbered in the hundreds of thousands and, as a society, accepting such a loss should not be easy. For this reason, when Monicelli announced his film, he began a smear campaign that sought to silence the production. And it is that, once again, we find ourselves with an anti-war discourse that, on this occasion, resorts to the chorality of a cast that gives life to characters that incarnate from peasants, to workers and criminals, involved in trench lifeand captained by two cowards united by the quest for survival. Apparently influenced by Kubrick’s film, here you will not find a much kinder look, but curiously, you will find a comic vision that gives it a unique character.
Frantz (Francois Ozon, 2016)
Frantz was born as a free interpretation of Remorse (Ernst Lubitsch, 1932), the only sound film shot by the German creative, and a work that could well be the reason for another entry on this list. But we will opt for the French version, which is not wasted either, and deviates from the dominant tone is the list. We are, on this occasion, before a story of regret, a drama that unites the lives of a deceased German soldier, his fiancée and a mysterious young French man. Elegant, sharp and rich in perspectives, Frantz take a closer lookfocused on the internal conflict of its characters, and how it relates to everything they have had to live through.
The Lost Patrol (John Ford, 1934)
At the next stop John Ford awaits us with one of his first hits. A film that blatantly tends towards epicism and that reveals the narrative talent of its director. To anyone who, now, in the middle of 2023, complains that they are living something like the era of unnecessary and excessively early remakes, it may comfort them to know that this film is, in fact, a remake of Lost Patrol (Walter Summers , 1929); Nothing new under the sun. Be that as it may, we find ourselves before one of those movies that created school. His way of portraying a hostile environment, hiding the enemy for most of the footage, is reminiscent of formulas used decades later in productions such as Alien. Despite its formal successes, it must be clear that it is a work of traditional war cinema, with its classic alienating patina, with all that this entails in, for example, its vision of the enemy.
Shoulder Arms (Charles Chaplin, 1918)
Chaplin plays soldier number 13, a character who wallows in his misfortune under the belief that bad luck accompanies him, not only because he has the cursed number as a badge on his service record, but also because he has broken a mirror. From his absurd vision of superstition, Chaplin builds an unusual story in which we will see him, among many other things, disguise himself as a tree. A medium-length film, a silent film, as delirious as funin which you will not find room for boredom.
The Red Baron (Roger Corman, 1971)
Corman shot one of the great exponents of war cinema and, in turn, one of the greats of aviation. As a film that can be classified, without fear of ridicule, as one of his best workss, will not leave you indifferent. The Red Baron It is a really valuable exponent of the last throes of the chivalric war, of the romanticism that surrounded those knights of the air who, later, disappeared without a trace. The color of the machines that he puts on screen is A feast for the eyes which derives directly from how specific your proposal is. A great biopic.
The Great Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1937)
And we end with another of the greats, Jean Renoir. The great illusion, considered by many to be one of the great masterpieces of cinema history, fixes its gaze on a group of French prisoners who, as soon as they arrive at a German concentration camp, find out that their companions are digging a hole. tunnel that should lead them to freedom. A everlasting film in which each plane contributes something about the characters it portrays. Meticulous, restrained, human and, above all, sharp in politics, Renoir’s tape continues to work as on the first day (or it was created —obviously, I wasn’t there—). A in-depth analysis of the nature of war.