In many of the great films about the First World War there are no battles, no fighting, sometimes not even shooting. In 1932 Ernst Lubitsch directed Remorsea film about a post-war soldier who visits a German town to look for the family of the last soldier he killed. the great illusion (1937), a masterpiece by Jean Renoir, deals with the relationship between officers from different sides in a prison; Paths of Glory (1957), prohibited in Spain until the arrival of democracy, taught the cruelty of military justice; life and nothing else (1989), by Bertrand Tavernier, recounts the endless search for the disappeared in France.
All these films—especially those by Lubitsch and Tavernier—showed that wars do not end when politicians say, not even when weapons are silenced, but rather leave a mark that societies take years to get rid of. In fact, as demonstrated by the extraordinary novel by Ignacio Martínez de Pisón fire castles (Seix Barral), sometimes the postwar period is as violent as the war. You can survive a conflict and lose everything when it ends, as many of the characters in Pisón do in Madrid in the 1940s.
Two of the films that reached the final stretch of the Oscars, the German No news at the front and the irish Banshees in Inisherin They are war films. In the first case, it is a new version of one of the great classics of antiwar literature, written by a veteran of the conflict, Erich Maria Remarque (1898-1970), and published in 1929, at the height of Nazism. In its first part, the film shows how crazy patriotism is capable of leading a society to its destruction. In the second, he shows —sometimes with a tone closer to the video game than to the cinema— the horrors of the trenches and the battles. In the Irish film, on the other hand, the war is something remote and at the same time very present.
Now that the battles have returned to Europe, it is very interesting to review all that war arsenal —although, in reality, the war never went very far: Yugoslavia stained the end of the 20th century with blood and, just begun the 21st, Vladimir Putin began in Crimea and then continued his offensive to destroy Ukraine in Donbas. Scholars still debate the origins of World War I—historian Christopher Clarke coined the concept of “sleepwalking.”” to explain the stupidity of the great powers that advanced towards the abyss without realizing it—, but its consequences were very clear: Nazism, the Second World War, total disaster, the Holocaust… “The horrors of 20th century Europe were born from this catastrophe that was, in the words of the American historian Fritz Stern, ‘the first calamity of the 20th century, the calamity from which all other calamities arose’, Clark writes in sleepwalkers.
No news at the front teaches us to hate wars; but it also allows us to understand that despotism must be stopped. The shoddy pacifism of those who refuse to arm Ukraine and want to hand over half the country to a tyrant who will soon launch into other territories and other victims is not that of Remarque, whose books were burned by the Nazis, who executed his little sister in 1943 accused of defeatism. Since his American exile, he never wavered: he denounced Hitler’s crimes and collaborated with the Allied secret services. He hated the war; but he was aware that if no one confronts evil, it will continue to advance.
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