Historical WWI Film ‘Verdun, Visions of History’ Screens at Webster Feb. 15

| February 2, 2015
Verdun, Visions of History

In 1928, French director and WWI veteran Leon Poirier meticulously reconstructed the Battle of Verdun with many of those who survived, juxtaposing news images, fight scenes and fiction to depict the battle’s tremendous human toll.

“Verdun, Visions of History” (Verdun, visions d’histoire), the significant 1928 World War I film restored in 2006, will screen at Webster University Feb. 15 as part of a co-presentation by Cinema St. Louis and the Centre Francophone at Webster University

Verdun, Visions of History

The film was restored in 2006.

In 1928, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Armistice, French filmmaker and WWI veteran Léon Poirier meticulously reconstructed the Battle of Verdun — in which more than 200,000 died — with soldiers who actually took part in it. Aiming for the universal, Poirier employed symbolic figures — the French soldier, the German soldier, the mother, the young girl, the intellectual — rather than focus on specific “real” characters, and the result was an epic film with an immense emotional power and strong pacifist message.

André Petiot composed the score for the film’s premiere at the Opéra de Paris, combining popular German folk music and well-known French themes. The Toulouse Cinematheque, which restored the film in 2006, also unearthed the piano reduction for Petiot’s now-lost orchestral score. For this special cine-concert, Hakim Bentchouala-Golobitch, composer and performer of numerous film scores, plays that piano reduction live.

Conceived as a pacifist work, juxtaposing news images, fight scenes of great documentary realism, and fiction, Poirier re-created the horrendous battle between French and German troops, and chronicled the ferocity of the war and its tremendous human toll. Most of the actors in the film were themselves war veterans, including Marechal Philippe Petain, and Poirier seamlessly meshed documentary footage with his re-enactments.

Recovery and Restoration

The film has rarely been seen in recent years as most copies of the original silent version were lost during World War II. Some 50 years later, an original print was located in Moscow – it had been stolen from France by the Nazis and then retrieved by the Russians at the end of the war. It was restored in 2006 by La Cinémathèque de Toulouse at L’immagine Ritrovata’s lab (Bologna, Italy) with the support of the Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema.

Midwest Tour

In addition to the free screening in Webster University’s Winifred Moore Auditorium at 7 p.m. on Feb. 15, the film will play at Indiana University on Feb. 14, St. Anthony Main Theatre in Minneapolis on Feb. 17, and the Music Box Theatre in Chicago on Feb. 19. The tour is made possible thanks to a grant from the Institut français and the Mission du Centenaire 1914-1918 in Paris in partnership with the Cinémathèque de Toulouse and the Cultural Service at the Consulate General of France in Chicago.

About Centre Francophone

Le Centre Francophone at Webster University promotes French and Francophone culture in St. Louis, which has a strong French heritage. Made possible by the Jane and Bruce Robert endowment, the Centre sponsors cultural events, invites writers and scholars, and works closely with the Cultural Service at the Consulate General of France in Chicago, the AATF, and the Francophile associations in Missouri.

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