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PATHS OF GLORY

USA, 1957 (MIFF 1958, Programme 5)

Director: Stanley Kubrick

France, 1916, a few miles behind the front: upstairs, in the chateau commandeered by the French army as military headquarters, the orchestra plays a waltz for an officers" ball; and in the grandiose panelled library General Broulard has deserted his guests to sip brandy and talk with young Colonel Dax. "Troops are like children. They need discipline ..." The General believes in setting examples. Dax asks what kind of example and the old man gives an elegant, furtive shrug. "Shooting a man," he explains, "now and then !" In fact, three French soldiers are due to be shot as "examples" in a few hours lime . . .

Paths of Glory is drawn from an actual incident that occurred in the French army during World War One. There is much in the film that powerfully illustrates the physical horrors of war &ndash: such as the sequence of the attack itself, done mainly in a series of vivid, inexorable, lateral tracking shots. But even more impressive and frightening is the study of its social structure. The world seems cruelly divided into the leaders and the led, and the war itself an extended struggle for power, internal and external. Made like the film to which is has been most compared &ndash: All Quiet on the Western Front &ndash: twelve years after a major conflict, Paths of Glory, however, uses the intellectual as opposed to the emotional argument. It is not only a film of unusual substance but a powerfully realized and gripping work of art. There is much violence and unsparing physical detail, yet the final effect is somehow austere because the horror has a moral force. The execution sequence itself &ndash: the soldiers drawn up in the chateau's formal garden, the two generals erect and bemadelled nearly as if dressed up for a review, and a sudden twittering of birds as rifles are raised &ndash: is masterly.

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