Les Croix de bois (1932)
aka: Wooden Crosses
A film directed by Raymond Bernard

Genre: Drama / War

Review published:


Les Croix de bois photo
At the outbreak of World War I, Gilbert Demachy, an idealistic young student, enlists and is sent to the Western Front to fight for his motherland, France. It is not long before he experiences his first taste of battle, in the muddy wastes of No Man's Land. Amidst the blazing gunfire and cacophony of exploding shells, he sees his comrades cut down, one by one. His time away from this battlefield of death is but a brief respite. Yet, amid these scenes from Hell, Demachy clings to life, hoping once more to be reunited with the woman he loves…
© filmsdefrance.com 2012

Film Review

One of the most realistic and harrowing war films to have been made in France, Les Croix de bois still delivers quite a punch and bears a favourable comparison with Lewis Milestone's better known American equivalent, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). Based on a well-known novel by Roland Dorgelès (first published in 1919), the film shows the horrors of the First World War through the eyes of an ordinary young man and serves as a fitting memorial to the senseless bloodshed, loss and devastation wrought by that conflict.

The film combines some highly imaginative expressionistic touches (most notably, the final sequence showing the fallen soldiers carrying their wooden crosses into the next world) with a brutal realism, achieved through some stunning battle scene reconstructions. The cast comprises mainly veterans from the 1914-18 war, including the two leads: Charles Vanel and Pierre Blanchar, who both became major stars of French cinema in the 1930s. This, together with the grimly matter-of-fact cinematography, gives the film a startling sense of reality and deeply moving humanity. It is incredible how much suffering and loss the film manages to convey. The continual ear-shattering explosions in the seemingly endless battle sequences bring home the unimaginable horror of trench warfare, whilst the gruesome spectacle of wounded soldiers lying abandoned in the mud, calling out for help that will never come, cuts into the spectator's heart like a serrated knife.

Les Croix de bois is not an easy film to sit through, so vividly, so relentlessly does it evoke the true naked horror of war, yet it demands our attention. It may lack the devastating poetry of Milestone's film, but it is just as shocking and uncompromising in its depiction of the mindless slaughter of the so-called Great War. “Never again” is what the film screams at us in a solemn howl of lamentation. What a terrible irony that within seven years of this film's release, the world would was once more be engulfed by war, so that another generation might be senselessly culled by bombs, bullets and bayonets, and more fields strewn with wooden crosses.

© James Travers 2006-2011

The above article was written for filmsdefrance.com and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.

Other recommended drama/war films of the 1930s from France include the following: Rex Ingram's Baroud (1933), Raymond Bernard's Les Croix de bois (1932), Anatole Litvak's L'Équipage (1935), Abel Gance's J'accuse! (1938) and Raymond Bernard's Marthe Richard au service de la France (1937).

Where to watch this film

The film Les Croix de bois may be available on amazon via the following links:
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Film Credits

  • Director: Raymond Bernard
  • Script: Raymond Bernard, André Lang, Roland Dorgelès (novel)
  • Photo: Jules Kruger, René Ribault
  • Cast: Pierre Blanchar (Adjudant Gilbert Demachy), Gabriel Gabrio (Sulphart), Charles Vanel (Caporal Breval), Raymond Aimos (Soldat Fouillard), Antonin Artaud (Soldat Vieublé), Paul Azaïs (Soldat Broucke), René Bergeron (Soldat Hamel), Raymond Cordy (Soldat Vairon), Marcel Delaître (Sergent Berthier), Jean Galland (Capitaine Cruchet), Pierre Labry (Soldat Bouffioux), Geo Laby (Soldat Belin), René Montis (Lieutenant Morache), Jean-François Martial (Soldat Lemoine), Marc Valbel (Maroux), Christian-Jaque (Un lieutenant)
  • Country: France
  • Language: French
  • Support: Black and White
  • Runtime: 110 min
  • Aka: Wooden Crosses

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