by Jeffrey Oberman
Once is left with the horrible feeling now that war settles nothing; that to win a war is as disastrous as to lose one.
— Agatha Christie, An Autobiography
François Dupeyron’s very personal and haunting 2002 film The Officers’ Ward1 addresses the horrors of war and the damages that are inflicted on the human spirit. And, on many levels, it more than succeeds. A stunning reminder that war is more often about the men who fight it than the politicians who wage it, this French period drama uses the First World War as an oblique setting in which to examine the issues of identity and self-image that define us all. The war, however, is more than merely the back-story: it is one of the main protagonists.
In our collective, historical memory, we are approaching the 100th anniversary of what we once called The Great War, the name bestowed on that world war before humanity had the audacity and the hubris to create another and start numbering them. It has been the hallmark of modern science to use new technology to kill before eventually finding a more pragmatic peacetime use for any scientific advancement. What set the First World War apart from previous conflicts was the huge chasm between the warfare technology of that time and the relatively ineffectual state of medicine during that same period. The metamorphosis from simple guns and men on horseback that were the norms in the 19th century to mustard gas and long-range artillery transformed the First World War from merely another conflict into a bloodbath.