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The Battle of the Rails (La Bataille du rail) (1946)
French classic La Bataille du rail, by master neo-realist filmmaker Rene
Clement, has been newly restored on DVD. This
gut-wrenching World War II thriller depicts the French resistance fighters who sabotaged
the Nazi occupation and defied
Divided loyalties, vigilante patriotism and sedition are all themes as relevant today as in the aftermath of war-torn
Bataille is framed in a structurally unique narrative--part fictitious story and part documentary that builds into a gripping political thriller and a testament to a demoralized people. Clement's verite style is vital and courageous filmmaking from a politically, if not artistically, perilous time. First and foremost he is a filmmaker of economy who uses straightforward cinematic storytelling. Indeed, there are large chunks of unscripted "pure cinema" and film montage of searing visual power that draws viewers into threatening territory physically, politically and psychologically.
It is no surprise that Bataille was the winner of the 1946
All of the filmmakers' effects--explosions, rail scenes and chases--are executed with thrilling technical clarity and dramatic tension. Clement's realism is never more potent than in the scenes of the resistance trading information in decoy scenes by playing cards, socializing and otherwise disappearing into daily life. A scene of workers listening in stony silence as a Nazi commandant orders them to acknowledge that they are fighting for the same side. Clement doesn't translate this speech from the German to French until after the officer is done, making the powerful, even poetic, statement that humanity wins out every time over political ideology.
- Lewis Whittington