In the cinema, war and love have always been good companions. Both make life more intense, both carry with them the fear of loss, of death. Does not a person in love fear the loss of their loved one just as a soldier fears death? Is not to lose a loved one similar to losing life? Can the soldier in love better confront death? Can love save us from death? Is war an enemy or a friend to love? Faced with these questions, the Great War is no exception to the rule and in 2018 it seemed opportune to us to adopt love as the underlying theme of our latest retrospectives from the past century.
G.W Pabst, the renowned director of Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl, deliberately made Westfront 1918, his first “talkie”, as a pacifist film by showing in it the full horrors of war (the film was banned by the Nazis). He also told the story of a man besotted with an unfaithful woman, and who prefers to return to his comrades at the front, in spite of the risk of death.
In 1947 with Devil in the Flesh, the adaptation of Radiguet’s 1923 novel, Claude Autant-Lara and his scriptwriters Aurenche and Bost caused a scandal. The story of a young man, the lover of a woman not only older than him but worse still married to a man fighting at the front, unleashed an angry reaction even in 1947. As for the actors, Gérard Philipe and Micheline Presle, this launched their careers.
In Waterloo Bridge, the lovers are separated by the war, which forces them back to their respective social classes. Robert Taylor and Vivien Leigh are magnificent in this wonderful melodrama by Mervyn LeRoy which depicts the two lovers as victims of both their background and of the war (he must fight, she turns to prostitution).
A Very Long Engagement by Jean-Pierre Jeunet is the story of a love that never ceases to believe in the impossible, thus foiling destiny.
More complicated is the question of love in Frantz, a film by François Ozon, a remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s film, Broken Lullaby. Is it possible to love and be loved by the wife of the man one killed in the war? In times of war, and afterwards, love can be salvation but also fatality. The cinema perpetually swings between the two, and moves us all the more.
FRANTZ, by François OZON (2016) - France, Germany
DEVIL IN THE FLESH, by Claude AUTANT-LARA (1947) - France
A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT, by Jean-Pierre JEUNET (2004) - France
WATERLOO BRIDGE, by Mervyn LE ROY (1940) - USA
WESTFRONT 1918, by Georg Wilhelm PABST (1930) - Germany