Making festival rounds well after its high-rated initial broadcasts on France 2, Jean-Francois Delassus’ “14-18, The Noise and the Fury” is a remarkable pastiche of archival visual materials that illustrate the observations of one fictive long-term soldier. Result is a living history lesson of unusual vividness and emotional power that merits further exposure in all appropriate outlets, not least a long educational shelf life.
Protag is an ordinary Frenchman who, like myriad other “young idiots hungry for adventure,” enlists early on for what turns out to be “four years of such intense agony” from which “my faith did not survive.” This superbly written text (given an excellent reading by Paul Bandey in the docu’s English-language version) balances credibly ground-level experience — cold, fear, boredom, worry about comrades and those back home — with explanation of the war’s larger movements. Pic includes clips from features depicting the era by Griffith, Rosi, Chaplin, Attenborough and many more. But primary source materials are rare archival newsreels and other nonfiction footage that have been restored and handsomely colorized, with ambient sound and occasional dialogue added, then beautifully assembled into an engrossing narrative.