It’s time for an old war film that takes place in France. It certainly doesn’t make the country look all that good though and it’s not exactly a feel good film. The movie is based on true events so I won’t be giving a rating on this post although you can probably get the jist of what I thought of it anyway. It’s a rather shady part of French history although every country seems to have a dark path at this point.
The plot of the movie is that France is unable to advance during a key battle. One of the commanders is pretty upset about this and orders that three French soldiers be executed for cowardice. Whether the charge is true or not is immaterial as he merely wishes to make a demonstration out of them to spur the rest of the force into action. One captain argues in their defense, but it is too late as the court hearing is just for show. Their executions are to remain and remain they do. It’s a rather somber ending to the film as a result and the captain has to head back to the barracks and prepare for more fighting.
It’s easy to see why a country like France didn’t do so well during the World Wars if they were engaging in these kinds of acts. They had the soldiers draw straws to see who would be executed in one division because none of them had actually run from battle. It was merely an empty charge, but one that had to be obeyed nonetheless. It’s a shame that none of the soldiers could be saved. They really got the raw end of the deal here and the rest of the soldiers would definitely be pretty bitter about this. If your only two options are a suicide run into enemy territory or being executed at home for not trying hard enough, it’s easy to also see how soldiers could just defect to the enemy side.
Making the movie even more somber is that one soldier’s friend is gunned down by the general by mistake and then the general submits him to be one of the soldiers to be executed so there are no witnesses. The general even ends up being one of the guys who gives the command to be fired. This was done intentionally to completely sow the seeds of the hierarchy. It showed that the soldiers had to follow any order, no matter how over the top and crazy it could be.
It goes back to the question of when it is acceptable to disobey an order. In the army, you are expected to listen to your commander without reservation, but anyone with a lick of common sense should know that this isn’t always the case. If you are given a morally wrong order, I should hope that you would not listen to it. Even if everyone tells you it is the right thing to do, it doesn’t mean that it is. Unfortunately, group think and mob mentality are two very real concepts and in the end nobody was able to step in to save these men in the film. It’s unfortunate, but they really didn’t have much of a chance. There was always going to be a scape goat in this situation and hundreds of soldiers died in vain. We try to forget these bleak moments in history, but there’s always another one around the bend. It’s why history is always fascinating, but depressing at the same times. The further back in time you go, the more tales of horror you will end up hearing.
Overall, I don’t know how faithful of an adaption this was, but it got the message across pretty smoothly. If you’re interested in history or strongly believe that the army was infallible back in the day, then this could be an educational watch for you. Just keep in mind that this film is very somber and since it is based on the true story, there is no happy ending. The situation just gets bleaker and bleaker until the film just ends. There are no winners in this tale and no perfect climax. You just see the soldiers grow saddened as their execution grows closer and closer. They panic and do everything that they can to get out of it, but there’s just no escape…and then it’s the end for them. The other soldiers go back to partying as their way of coping and you’re left to be reminded of why war is always a bad thing. It should also help you appreciate America’s democracy a little more. I like to believe that our Court System wouldn’t have allowed such a case to have gone so far and would have overturned the charges. I am somewhat bias for America though.