Paths of Glory (1957)

15 Jun

This is an amazing movie.  I checked it out from the library on the suggestion of my professor.  Or at least that’s what I call him.  I don’t think that listening to his lectures through iTunes U is quite the same as attending class.  Still I’m quite attached to the guy.  I’d like to think that I’d even take notes and do all the assigned reading for his course.  Or at the very least, watch the movies.

This is one of Stanley Kubrick’s first films.  You may know his work on a Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, The Shining or 2001: a space odyssey.  I hope that you do not know him from Eyes Wide Shut.  Paths of Glory was a film that Kubrick was determined to make despite the fact that he was pretty sure that it wouldn’t make a lot of money.  He was right in this assumption but this movie is a classic today for what it is, not what it isn’t.

The story is that of a French troop during WWI.  They are ordered to complete a mission that will likely spell disaster and death.  This is the result of an upwardly mobile general agreeing to suicide for his men in hopes of advancement for himself.  During the battle many die and eventually the group is forced to surrender.  They are under equipped and out manned by the Germans.  Due to their anticipated failure the generals believe that an example should be made and they seek to court martial and execute men.

If you see the film you will easily forget that this is supposed to be a French troop.  Besides the character names there is very little indication.  The movie itself is shot near Munich and Dachau.  Many of the men in the trenches are off duty Munich policemen.  But the point is still clear.  War is quite often insane.  Though the trenches are a bit wider than they were in real life to accommodate camera movements they still feel close.  They still resonate with fear and dread.  Kirk Douglas is wonderful if you don’t mind him being undeniably American.

Many French and Swiss did mind Kubrick’s adaptation of the book by the same name.  The movie was banned in France and the Swiss didn’t release it because, in simple terms, it made the French look cowardly.  From the distance of years I can say that it doesn’t appear that way to me.  The French men in the trenches were brave in an impossible situation.  That’s true courage.  Seeing the movie helps us to remember that war is not fair.  It’s not just or friendly or even logical.

Though I thought A Very Long Engagement did a better job of portraying the trenches, I happen to be biased.  I like French speaking French and I like to see things in color.  Maybe because then it helps me to stop thinking of that time in history in black and white.


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