The 11th of November is known as Remembrance Sunday here in Britain, and Memorial Day in America. What the day was originally celebrating was the armistice, the end of the first World War (then only known as the great war.) With the end of hostilities, and the war officially over, there was an illusion of a time of peace.
Unfortunately, that war had a sequel. Not only did it have a sequel, but three months after the armistice, Berlin was aflame. The cold war had already begun, even before the armistice, as Lenin and his enemies plunged Russia into a bloody civil war (ironically started because Lenin didn’t want to waste lives on the war in Europe.)
In any case, to understand the past, there are a few films worth watching.
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
One of the first sound films, we saw this with the Aberystwyth Film Society. It’s an American take on a German author’s view. The book was a fictionalised story, by someone who was in the trenches, but it takes a group of youngsters from gung ho recruits to cannon fodder to battle hardened soldiers who can’t live as civilians anymore.
Fortunately, many soldiers were able to settle back into civilian life. However, this isn’t about those soldiers.
Almost every good World War I film (and almost any good war film) is derivative of this. It set the pace of our understanding of this war.
Joyeux Noel (2005)
Based on historical fact, but not on a single event. The DVD extras are recommended to those who want to see the real historical background, the director answers questions. But, it makes more sense to watch the feature first.
There were meetups like this, but they were heavily censored and self-censored.
Here we see the idea of pointless sacrifice from the winning side. It’s sort of a tale of Australian independence, Australians going to a foreign land, to fight a war that isn’t theirs.
Rupert Murdoch helped produce this film, before he was a newspaper magnate.
I would cut some of the film out, there are unnecessary things that are better implied.
There are other first world war films that influenced famous directors. Some are comments on other wars, or simply love stories that use the war as a backdrop. I think these three can be a good starting point to understand the western soldiers’ point of view, of course to see the Russian, Ottoman or other Eastern points of view, the civilian points of view, colonial points of view and so on can be interesting too.
Then again, when we think of Memorial Day, we think mainly of those fighting on the western front, or Westerners in the East. Russia, Turkey and Eastern Europe were not completely at peace yet.