Released by: Olive Films
Released on: November 15th, 2016.
Director: Abel Gance
Cast: Victor Francen, Line Noro, Marie Lou, Jean Max, Renée Devillers
Year: 1938 Purchase From Amazon
Based on his own 1919 silent film of the same name (though not an actual remake), French director Abel Gance’s 1938 picture J’Accuse tells the tale of Jean Diaz (Victor Francen), a poet who has witnessed firsthand the horrors of war while serving his native France during the First World War. When his service has come to an end, so scarred is he by his experiences that he puts aside his literary ambitions in favor of a new cause – finding a way to end war.
Diaz is a clever man. He comes up with what he believes to be a scientifically viable way to stop war from breaking out. Along the way, he falls for Edith (Line Noro), the wife of one of his fallen comrades, but will not marry her. As years pass, as he can’t marry Edith due to a promise he made in the trenches, he instead gives his heart to her daughter, pretty Helene (Renée Devillers). Armed with his ideas, eventually Jean manages to convince well to do business man Henri Chimax (Jean Max) to finance his ambitions – sort of. As the Second World War looms on the horizon, Henri intends to use Jean’s research to make body armor out of glass so strong that bullets cannot penetrate it.
As Henri and his fellow business men look forward to a massive tidal wave of profits from the encroaching conflict, the supernatural tie that Jean has to those who have fallen in service to their countries manifests, proving that the dead have a very strong voice indeed…
A genuinely strange but consistently engaging mix or horror, drama, romance and anti-war politicking, J’Accuse is a picture that sticks in your craw long after it has finished. The film incorporates plenty of authentic newsreel footage and, as such, is realistic in its depictions of the atrocities of war but it doesn’t depend on this to get its message across. While the film is heavy-handed to a very large degree, its anti-war message is just as potent today as it was in 1938 and the picture is no less effective in its method of delivery. The film may be shot like the director’s earlier silent pictures – it’s very stagey in appearance and the camera doesn’t move very much – but there are enough unusual ideas at play in the film that you can’t help but get pulled in by the picture.
As a narrative piece the film is a little over done in that it relies on expository dialogue between less interesting supporting characters to occasionally explain what and why the central characters are up to. This device is a bit rudimentary and could have been better handled by improved dialogue between the central characters. However, the visuals here are top notch and even at almost two hours in length the film is paced quite effectively. The performances are excellent, particularly Victor Francen in the lead. As Jean Diaz he’s a man obsessed with trying to solve all the world’s problems (he’s definitely noble, but clearly unrealistic), but so too is he a romantic conflicted between the two women in his life. Francen pulls all of this off with style, delivering a moving turn in front of the camera and emoting so effectively with his performance that we can’t help but fall in with the guy. The romantic subplot(s) don’t move the story along particularly well, but they do at least humanize Jean to a certain degree and let us see him enjoying what life has to offer rather than toiling away at his obsessive idea. The fact that he never explains to Edith that he can’t marry her because he’d made a promise to her husband on the battlefield doesn’t seem to matter much to him. He simply opts for Edith’s younger, prettier daughter instead – no one said that Diaz was a perfect man, simply a noble man.
The whole things ends with a set piece so remarkable that you’re forced to take notice – we won’t spoilt it here, but let it suffice to say that Diaz’s connections with the war dead is a very strong one and when Gance decides it is time for this to manifest on camera, the imagery is bizarre, frightening and unforgettable. It is not subtle – this is the horror of war in human form – but it works.
J’Accause is presented in a nice looking AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.33.1 fullframe. Contrast looks very solid here and black levels stay strong although things are occasionally a little dark looking – this appears to be how the movie was host, however, rather than an issue with the transfer itself. The whites never bloom or look too hot while detail and texture show a lot more than we've seen previously on home video. The 1.33.1 framing looks very good. There is very little print damage here to note, the picture is very clean. There are no signs of edge enhancement, noise reduction or compression artifacts to complain about – this is quite film like and a solid image overall.
The only audio option for the disc is a DTS-HD Mono track in French. No alternate language options are provided although optional English subtitles are here. Dialogue is clean and clear and the levels are properly balanced. There aren't any issues with hiss or distortion and for an older mono dubbed mix, the audio here sounds just fine.
There are no extras on this disc, only menus and chapter selection.
The Final Word:
J’Accuse is an impressive picture that shows both how high and how low mankind can sink when embroiled in combat and is a stirring look at the strength of the human spirit. The movie is at times exciting while at other times romantic and dramatic but it is always compelling. Olive’s Blu-ray is devoid of any extras, which is a shame as this is one movie that really cries out for a good commentary track, but it does look and sound very good. As such, this is easily recommended. J’Accuse is an excellent film.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!