Dir: Francois Dupeyron. France. 2001. 135mins
Comfortingly old-fashioned in its virtues of sensitive direction and finely nuanced performances, La Chambre Des Officiers is a moving account of an injured officer's struggle for physical and spiritual regeneration at the height of the First World War. Conventional handling of the material may not attract universal critical support, but its sincerity and uplifting tone should readily endear it to audiences and provide writer-director Francois Dupeyron with a solid box-office success in his home territory and a prestige attraction in international territories.
Best known for pretentious minimalist relationship dramas like Drole Endroit Pour Une Recontre and Un Coeur Qui Bat, Dupeyron benefits from allying his talents to the more focused storytelling of Marc Dugain's novel. The film may be a traditional piece of narrative but it has a clarity and purpose that were often elusive in Dupeyron's early work.
Carrying some similarities with Gillies MacKinnon's undervalued World War One drama Regeneration, the film charts the long journey from hideous injury to hopeful rehabilitation of Adrien (Cavaca). We briefly glimpse him alive and well before he is blown from his horse by a shell that destroys a significant part of his face. Barely conscious, he survives a nightmare journey from the battlefield before waking to the angelic presence of nurse Anais (a luminous Sabine Azema).
At first, he is the only patient in a ward of the hospital that is reserved exclusively for officers. As the War progresses, the other beds fill and he discovers that he is not alone. Over time he forms a special bond with two other officers and a woman who have all suffered extensive facial injuries. The mutual support and solidarity becomes a key factor in the painstaking mental and physical recovery that unfolds over the ensuing four years.
Placing us inside the head of Adrien, the film relies a good deal oninterior monologue as we hear his all too human reactions to the possibility that he will never regain the power of speech, that he will never be accepted in public or know love again. We only glimpse the full extent of his facial injuries when Adrien himself unwraps his bandages and views his reflection. The identification with the plight of the central character is so fully established that any sign of progress becomes all the more touching. His path to recovery is marked by a number of gutwrenching high points from the moment a faltering possibility of speech returns to a belated, bittersweet reunion with his family.
Audiences who shed copious tears at Nanni Moretti's Palme D'Or winner will find themselves just as deeply affected by this. Manipulative without being crass, it touches the heart with a consistent lightness of touch that only really deserts Dupeyron in a protracted, sentimental climax where he feels it necessary to spell out the extent of Adrien's rebirth and his reward of a happy family life.
All Quiet On The Western Front, Paths Of Glory and La Grande Illusion remain the benchmarks for films exploring the experience and legacy of the First World War but La Chambre Des Officiers makes its own distinctive contribution by moving away from the trenches and injustice of armed conflict to celebrate one man's remarkable inner strength and ability to embrace the beauty of life. The setting may be very specific but the core of the story is universal and could apply to anyone at any time recovering from injury or trauma. That universality lends an old-fashioned tale a very direct emotional appeal for a modern audience.
Prod co ARP
Int'l sales ARP
Prods Michele And Lauren Petin
Scr Francois Dupeyron from the novel by Marc Dugain
Cinematography Tesuo Nagata
Prod des Patrick Durand
Ed Dominique Faysse
Music Arvo Part
Main cast Eric Caravaca, Denis Podalydes, Gregori Derangere, Sabine Azema