J’Accuse (1938) is a different version of the original 1919 silent film by the same director, Abel Gance. Because of the time period, the film takes on the then-current events of World War II. It is a very anti-war film, and quite heavy-handed for modern viewers – although that makes sense given the time. Jean Diaz (Victor Francen) returns from war, where he has been wounded, with the mission of ending all wars. He tries to come up with a technological invention to end wars, but bureaucracy allows his plan to be hijacked to instead start the next war.
Gance is best known for his film Napoléon (1927), today usually considered one of the greatest films ever made. J’Accuse was not well received at the time, with right-wing critics in France going out of their way to undermine Gance’s work. He was absolutely despised by Histoire du cinéma, which was deeply fascist film magazine, and had also called Napoléon monstrous and barbaric. Even his left-wing friends thought it was an authoritarian fantasy. In other words, Gance was not seen as the master filmmaker than that he is today.
To be fair Napoléon, isn’t a film that you watch in one go especially since it’s like five hours long, few breaks will improve the experience. However J’Accuse‘s first half is a pretty straightforward World War I film, the second half becomes this very strange film about one man’s effort to ensure world peace through technology and science. To top it off, at the very end it actually becomes a zombie film, when the hero brings the millions of French war dead back to life (the original was one of the first ever made in that genre). Complete with disfigurements and injuries, they arise to frighten society.
It’s a good film on a theme that is still relevant, making an interesting anti-war statement. And the zombie angle is not what you would expect in the slightest. The film looks great in the new restoration and it includes a commentary and a big fat booklet on the film.