Written and directed by Francois Dupeyron. Starring Eric Caravaca, Denis Podalydes and Gregori Derangere.
'The Officers' Ward' has been adapted from the novel by Marc Dugain set during WWI in a hospital in France. Adrien (Eric Caravaca) is a young engineer who gets horrifically injured from a shell while on his first assignment, before the war has started in earnest. Part of his face is blown off and he requires extensive reconstructive surgery.
Adrien's last act before he went to the front line was to pick up the wife of another departing soldier for a brief tryst. The memory of this encounter haunts him, as he feels no woman will ever want him again. Enter a pioneering surgeon (Andre Dussollier) and a nurse (Sabine Azeme) who takes Adrien under her wing help to reawaken his will to live. He bonds with the similarly disfigured men in the ward and they band together.
This is a tale of the triumph of the human spirit that is simply told. It also serves as an effective anti-war film, dealing with the aftermath of senseless violence, instead of the moment. It is initially difficult to identify with the protagonist, as Caravaca invests him with very little charisma. He comes across as a cold, humourless creature with a dodgy 'tache. Indeed, it's a wonder the married woman, Clemence (Geraldine Pailhas) goes with him in the first place.
The pace is slow and once inside the ward, that's where we stay for the bulk of the film. The theme is powerful enough to survive a lacklustre middle section though. And you can't help but wonder if in their place, you'd have a similar strength of character to pull through. The attention to period detail is impeccable and nothing in the production design jars. The cinematography is suitably muted so as not to divert attention from the internal struggle and the use of music is well-judged.
Sabine Azeme gives a wonderful performance as the maternal nurse (looking exactly like a young Pauline Collins) and Denis Podalydes and Gregori Derangere are both terrific as Adrien's friends from the ward. The problem lies with the central performance which never manages to convey the anguish, nor hook audience sympathy, rather than pity. Couple this with the slow pace and it makes for a dull, if worthy film.