The film Field of Honor puts the viewer in mind of the adage, “It’s a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”
The setting for this 1987 film, directed by Jean-Pierre Denis, is the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. The picture opens with a view of the French countryside, but all is not well in this pastoral setting. We are introduced to a family of tenant farmers lamenting the loss of their valuable ox. The character Pierre, convincingly played by actor Cris Campion, is a young woodcutter who comes to the rescue of his family by selling the only asset he has, his lucky draft lottery number. Possessing this number, he will never be called up for five years’ service in the army. He has the legal right, however, to sell this number, and does so, to the scion of the rich family that owns the land on which his family labors.
Once in uniform, Pierre and his compatriots exhibit a casual camaraderie, comparing how much money they sold their draft numbers for. Their light-hearted banter will shortly be blown to pieces on the field of battle against superior Prussian forces.
Field of Honor film presents a very well directed scene of close-quarter combat once the armies meet for the first time. In the aftermath of the cannon fire and bayonet charges, Pierre wanders from the battlefield, concussed and slightly wounded. Pierre tells himself that he is searching the countryside for the remnants of his regiment, but he continues to shed more of his uniform and gear as he proceeds. Eventually he comes across a young boy, hiding in an abandoned farmhouse. The child is Alsatian, so there is a bit of a language barrier, but they take to each other and continue their journey together. When night falls, Pierre is seriously wounded by a stray bullet from a nearby skirmish.
Back in Pierre’s home town the casualty lists begin to arrive, and the villagers react quite properly with the remark, “All the Napoleons do is take our sons.” The film also illustrates another unfortunate symptom of war time, a feverish public that turns on itself, inspired by propaganda to search out the disloyal and spies.
The ending of the film is a perfect reminder that the true instincts of mankind are not warfare and combat, but home, family, and peace. This is a timely message as the master class around the world today continues to drive people toward war with saber-rattling rhetoric and imperialist provocations.
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