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Draft Review by Dean Duncan Jun 29, 2015

Insanely intense film, with structure and continuity and motivation all thrown aside, the better to shout the wrong-headed, right-hearted message that there must be no more war, even though in 1937 it seems to have been becoming obvious that there would too have to be one, in fact, Gance so superlatively–and prophetically!, you’d swear it was 1939–suggests the atmosphere of escalation and hysteria that the must-have-been clear knowledge that the Germans were on the other side of the narrative causing it all ends up undercutting the pacifist sentiments; one appreciates the overt symbols (dove with pierced breast) and regrets that we’re too sophisticated to tolerate something so clear any longer, the stock footage is impressively and joltingly intercut, the whole 1918 section is very affecting, especially the assigning of the death patrol, the exchange of the 12th man, the triple dissolve calling of the armistice, the man dying in the trench knowing he’s among the last casualties, the return of the bodies, the discovery of Diaz, the hands clasped in the hospital; the mother/daughter stuff one could do without, the CU with crosses marching off in the back, the whole scared to death section is wonderfully, and purposefully pyrotechnical, Diaz’ J’Accuse speech is withering, his sudden madness is wrenching, and the jaw-dropping calling of the dead (with the shocking use of those terribly disfigured victims) is a very fitting and pretty unequalled climax to the whole mad enterprise