Review of J’accuse! (1919)
Review refers to an unmodified copy (approximately 110 minutes), so my understanding is based on a simultaneous verbal translation by the Frenchman who showed it to me, as well as on my very poor French.
A wife cheats on her husband in favour of a poet and painter whose latest work, Les Pacifiques, is put on hold for the outbreak of war. Both men fight in the trenches.
A later anti-war feature than the Danish Lay Down Your Arms (1914), but filmed in part using real battlefields when WW1 was still being fought, with the cooperation of the French government who thought the message was going to be patriotic. The zombie involvement comes very late but gathers extra punch through the use of actual doomed soldiers on leave as actors. A traditional triangular romantic drama supports a large part of the film quite poorly, and the first minutes are very surreal.
Many shots are beautiful, including the rejuvenated coot who fought in 1870 and who’s marked out Alsace-Lorraine in solid ink; he happily adds the text A bientôt (“Let’s meet again”) when the war begins. A lot of people get “accused”, but never explicitly the government, nor statism/archism.