Of the thirty-odd new French films screened in last year’s CineFrance festival, none was better received by regular patrons than director François Dupeyron’s poignant World War I drama. The Officers’ Ward tells of a young French officer, Adrien (Eric Caravaca), who is wounded in the first days of battle when a shell explodes in his face. He is cared for by the army’s plastic surgeon (superbly played by the veteran Andre Dussolier) and he spends the rest of the war with a group of similarly disfigured colleagues in the officers’ ward, preparing for a new life.
Based on a fine novel by Marc Dugain, The Officers’ Ward is anything but a traditional war movie. Dupeyron sees it as ‘the story of a destroyed man who finds within himself the strength to live. It relates to the rebirth of this man and is a magnificent tale of love. The war is just the background. It could just as easily be the story of a man recovering from an accidentoa modern story. The novel also contained the material to make a significant film on war without ever falling into the trap of violence or showing any fighting.’
Noble, sensitive and consistently moving, this beautifully crafted and performed film is imbued with a certain matter-of-fact grandeur. Combining restraint and sentiment, Dupeyron’s direction creates an aura of incremental bravery and recovery as the protagonists are gradually healed by early reconstructive surgery, kind nurses and their own fortitude.
France, 2001. English subtitles. Colour. Panavision anamorphic. Dolby digital stereo. 134 mins.