Movie Review by Toby White
Starring: Eric Caravaca, Denis Podalydes, Gregori Derangere, Sabine Azema
Director: François Dupeyron
French cinema is a curious entity – certainly an acquired taste – and THE OFFICERS’ WARD (LE CHAMBRE DES OFFICIERS) is no exception. Set during the First World War, Adrien (Eric Caravaca) is a soldier brutally wounded in the face by a shell, on his first reconnaissance mission, who spends the rest of the war convalescing in the officer’s ward of a hospital far behind the front line. During this time, he and his two fellow facially-mashed compatriots undergo progressive yet primitive reconstructive surgery (that makes little improvement), break out to bars and brothels, befriend a similarly scarred nurse and set about coming to terms with their disfigurement.
Significantly, after the blast, we see everything from Adrien’s perspective – never seeing his face but only hearing the irksome gurgling sounds he emits (I mean, come on, its not as if he was wounded to the throat) – and we desperately want to see how he looks. This morbidity is fuelled as more and more people – doctors, surgeons, friends – all react accordingly to his wounds. Sadly, however, once the horror of his injury is revealed the suspense deteriorates. There is very little story from there to the end, save some quirky and poignant moments such as when Adrien and his two friends (not unlike the three stooges) slip out of the ward and into the town, but these are almost formulaic in a drama of this nature and there’s nothing really there to sustain one’s interest. It clings together with a tenuous link about love. Adrien’s conviction to get through his tragedy is driven by his love for Clemence, a girl he pledged himself to on the night he met her, the night he set off to war. Good backstory but the trouble is we don’t totally sympathise when he meets her towards the end because they never forged anything tangible in the first place.
Nominated for 9 Cesars (the French equivalent of the Oscars) this should be some indication of the film’s merit. Perhaps it’s the harrowing nature of the material, or the originality of the cinematography, or the honesty and humanity of the performances. Or perhaps, like their American counterparts, the French academy side with films about the triumph of the human spirit in the face of adversity. If this is the case then, yes, here is a film that should at once be shocking, moving and ultimately touching but watching it it’s as though nothing really happens. Instead we’re fed unrealised potential. A shame really because, in principle, films like this should open us up to experiences we wouldn’t normally be exposed to but THE OFFICERS’ WARD merely tells us something we already knew.