The Officers' Ward

The Officers' Ward


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Without a single fanfare, writer/director Francois Dupeyron has made a film of epic proportions. What begins as a love story and a war movie continues as something more uplifting than you could possibly imagine.

Adrien's one afternoon in the hotel bedroom with Clemence, who was seeing her fiance off to the front in 1914, would remain in his memory always. For him, the Great War ends with a small explosion. While resting his horse on a hill above the battlefield, a stray shell lands between them, killing the animal and taking half his jaw away.

How can you live with yourself when you cannot look at yourself? In the officers' ward, he lies alone, listening to the rasp of his breath, unable to talk, remembering Clemence, wanting to die.

The story of the film is the story of Adrien's recovery and although the subject matter - disfigurement - is not the stuff of box office dreams, it has a powerful and emotional impact. Sentiment takes fifth place behind compassion, camaraderie, humour and courage. Above all, it is a beautiful-looking picture, which, in the circumstances, seems ironic.

Eric Caravaca, in the lead role, has to undergo extensive makeup surgery. He never loses touch with the character of the young lieutenant, who is decorated for bravery, when all he did was stand in the wrong place at the wrong time and whose heart is aflame with a passion that dare not show its face.

The integrity of Depeyron's direction, which avoids the grotesque in favour of the human spirit, is matched by an imaginative and unexpected use of the camera. The film's two-and-a-quarter hours fly past, enriched by unforgettable imagery. The lesson at the end is spoken quietly: "Once you accept yourself, others will accept you."

Reviewed on: 21 Mar 2002
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The Officers' Ward packshot
A man's recovery in hospital after being disfigured on the fields of France during World War One.
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Director: Francois Dupeyron

Writer: Marc Dugain, Francois Dupeyron, based the novel by Marc Dugain

Starring: Eric Caravaca, Denis Podalydes, Gregori Derangere, Sabine Azema, Andre Dussollier

Year: 2001

Runtime: 135 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France


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