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J’accuse (Blu-ray Review)

J'accuseJ’accuse, director Abel Gance’s (Napoleon) indictment of war, is a tale of romance and idealism in the tradition of Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion.  Abel Gance would revisit his 1919 epic J’accuse with the 1938 reimagining, this time with sound and a score by his The Woman Thief collaborator Henri Verdun.  Gance’s film stars  Victor Francen (Farewell to Arms) and Jean-Max (Satan’s Paradise), J’accuse features supporting performances by Line Noro (Pépé le Moko), Paul Amiot (Le Cercle Rouge), André Nox (Savage Brigade) and Marie Lou (The Woman Thief).  Directed by Abel Gance, J’accuse (which used his epic 1919 silent screen version as a template) is both a stirring indictment of man’s inhumanity to man and an ode to man’s capacity for love and compassion.  The film is coming to Blu-ray from Olive Films on November 15th.

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Film 

Set against the backdrop of World War I, the idealistic poet Jean Diaz, in pursuit of a higher calling, having witnessed the horrors of war, seeks to create a technology that will put an end to future bloodshed.  Jean’s hopes for a peaceful resolution are soon dashed when investor Henri Chimax appropriates Jean’s plans knowing that another world war, looming on the horizon, will profit him financially.

J’accuse is a remake of a silent film of the same name and of the same director.  Like a silent film, this film’s greatest strengths are in its visuals.  There are some scary ass visuals within this dark war story that will linger long after one has watched it.  The film is very expressionistic and contains mostly darkly lit scenes, that have many people and scenes hiding in the dark depths.

The story here is a pretty typical piece of tragedy in wartime film.  You are treated to a love triangle in which the husband/boyfriend dies leaving the significant other with the affair buddy.  However, while that’s there, the bigger focus is on the dark “glory” of war.  There are some real gut punchers with stuff that plays in some of the sinister comedic ways I’ve ever seen in film.

I don’t know if J’accuse is something I’ll ever return too, but it was a bit of an eye opening film.  I’m not familiar with the silent film, but I imagine it borrowed and restaged some iconic shots and moments.  And no doubt, I’m sure future directors would be inspired by and use influence from this film or from a film that was influenced by it for years and years to come.

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1

Layers: BD-25

Clarity/Detail:  J’accuse comes to Blu-ray from Olive Films with a very nice looking picture.  Its grainy, but that retains a lot of the definition and detail.  Uniforms show little strings hanging, tears, dirt, stitches and plenty of texture.  You can also make out some good bits of damage in bomb tattered environments.

Depth:  Decent depth here with characters feeling far apart from their background.  Movements and smooth and cinematic in their appearance.

Black Levels:  Blacks are deep and in some instances carry heavier grain.  Yes, plenty of detail gets lost in really dark sequences and surfaces/clothing, hair.  There is still a good bit of definition however.

Color Reproduction:  N/A

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones carry their whites, grays and blacks consistent with the given lighting of a scene.  Close ups reveal some pretty surprising detail, like make-up, moles, wrinkles, stubble, dried blood, dirt and scars.

Noise/Artifacts:  There is some heavy grain as well as some dirt specs and flickering in places.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 1.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics:  This very analog sounding track carries a heavy vinyl like distortion, but it still impresses in big impactful moments.  Bombings and guns firing sounds pretty fresh, loud and low in this mix.  Overall, while things can go a bit over (Likely a source issue), its still decently balanced.  You just have to accept that this film’s soundtrack evokes the sound of the era when which it was made.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction:  Vocals comes with quite a bit of analog hiss.  However, you can clearly make out the voices and the volume is ideal.

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Extras 

J’accuse comes with no supplemental material.

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Summary 

J’accuse is a unique, dark and twisted war film with terrific French expressionism.  As a drama, its a bit slow and plodding, but as an art film with great imagery its terrific.  This Blu-ray provides a good presentation with both video and audio.  Unfortunately there are no extras to be found on the disc.  So, you’ll want to really be a fan of this movie when purchasing.

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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