J'accuse! (1919)


The movie J’accuse! (1919) is a French silent film directed by Abel Gance. It juxtaposes a romantic drama with the background of the horrors of World War I. Work on the film began in 1918. Some scenes were filmed on real battlefields. [2] While it is a war drama, the climactic use of the undead at the end results in comparisons to later horror films.

In J’accuse! (1919), a Provençal village in the south of France welcomes the declaration of war with Germany in 1914 and the villagers flock to enlist². Among them is François Laurin, a man of jealous and violent temperament, who is married to Édith, the daughter of an upright veteran soldier Maria Lazare. François suspects, correctly, that Édith is conducting an affair with the poet Jean Diaz who lives in the village with his mother, and he sends Édith to stay with his parents in Lorraine – where she is subsequently captured and raped by German soldiers.

François and Jean find themselves serving in the same battalion at the front, where the initial tensions between them give way to a close friendship that acknowledges that they both love Édith. In 1918, Jean is discharged through ill-health and returns to the village, to find his mother dying. Édith reappears from captivity, now with a young half-German daughter Angèle. Her father, Maria Lazare, immediately leaves to avenge the shame to the family name². When François comes home on leave, Jean and Édith fear his reaction to the illegitimate child and try to conceal her from him, which merely revives his jealous suspicions of Jean, and the two men fight. When the truth is revealed, François and Jean agree to seek their vengeance in battle and both return to the front. In a great battle, in which a mythical figure of Le Gaulois leads on the French forces, François is wounded and dies in the field hospital. Jean, meanwhile, is so shell-shocked that he becomes insane.

He returns to the village and gathers the inhabitants together to tell them of his vision on the battlefield: from the graves of the dead, soldiers arise and gather in a great cohort that marches through the land, back to their homes. Jean challenges the villagers to say whether they have been worthy of the men’s sacrifices, and they watch in horror as their dead family and friends appear on the threshold. [2]


  • Romuald Joubé as Jean Diaz
  • Maxime Desjardins as Maria Lazare
  • Séverin-Mars as François Laurin
  • Angèle Guys as Angèle
  • Maryse Dauvray as Édith Laurin
  • Mancini as Mother Diaz
  • Angèle Decori as Marie, Lazare’s servant


The soldiers in the March of the Dead sequence were real soldiers on leave from the front. Most of them were killed within the next few weeks. [2]


“J’Accuse was not the first antiwar film, but the way Gance told his story, using expressionistic camerawork and innovative editing techniques, profoundly influenced filmmaking from Hollywood to Moscow.” [1]


[1] SilentFilm.org

[2] Wikipedia

[3] IMDb

Last updated byCody Meirick on November 26, 2023