Champ d'honneur (Field of Honor) (1987)

 

 

 

Director:     Jean-Pierre Denis.

Starring:     Cris Campion (Pierre Naboulet),  Pascale Rocard (Henriette),  Eric Wapler (Arnaud Florent),  Frdric Mayer (The Child),  Andr Wilms (The pedlar),  Marcelle Dessalles (Pierre's Mother),  Marion Audier (Pierre's Sister),  Robert Sandrey (Florent's Father),  Lily Genny (Florent's Mother),  Louis-Marie Taillefer (Gang Leader),  Franois Segura (Roger).

Franco-Prussian War; a fellow sells his low draft lottery number and takes the place of the son of a rich man

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

1869.  "Recruiting for the French army is done by lottery drawings.  Lucky numbers are permanently exempted from the draft .  Unlucky ones must serve for five years.   But it is legal to pay someone to serve in one's place."

A sharecropping family's cow is dying.  Everyone is upset.

From the poor family who just lost their cow, a son, Pierre Naboulet, has come to sell his lucky draft number.  Pierre is from the Jally estate.  Pierre signs the papers and picks up his money.  He is to report to the Rheims barracks, by the 30th of the month.

Back at home, Pierre's mother says he should have got more money for his lucky number.  His brother asks Pierre if Henriette knows about what Pierre did?  Yes, because Pierre told her. 

The family gets a new cow.

On Pierre's last night, Henriette stays with him in the barn.  He tells Henriette that he's crazy for leaving her. 

Pierre starts walking to get to his barracks, but he's stopped by Arnaud Florent, who bought Pierre's lucky number.  He says he just wanted to meet Pierre.  He asks if Pierre is going to Lemoge?  Yes.  He will be there by tomorrow.  It seems that Arnaud feels guilty that another man is going into the army instead of Arnaud going.  Pierre says now he has to get on a small ferry raft to take him to the other side of the river.  They part company. 

Pierre goes by train after walking a long ways.  And now we see Pierre in his uniform marching along in formation during boot camp.  The guy talks about how much money they got from the person they replaced.  One fellow says with money, one can do anything.

At night Pierre tells a buddy that he is going to marry a girl named Henriette when he gets back to Sauvagnac. 

The next day the guys watch as Algerian and Turkish soldiers march into the barracks area. 

Back at home, the sharecroppers hear the church bells ringing.    The ringing announces that France is now at war with Prussia.  Now Arnaud seems even more guilty in that his substitute could be killed in the war. 

At the dinner table, Arnaud's father says two or three divisions of French soldiers and the war will be over. 

Pierre is on the battlefield.  Prussian cannons tear down many of the trees in the area and Pierre has to watch as not to get struck by one of the falling trees.  Unfortunately, their Major is struck by a falling tree and is killed. 

Pierre is worried.  He looks behind him and says there's no one behind their unit.  A messenger comes to the Captain and tells him the Colonel says to stop.  The captain has advanced too far ahead of everyone.  The Captain says that they have no maps to guide them.  He asks where's their artillery support?  The messenger says the artillery is out of action and the Captain will get no support at all.  The cavalry has been routed.  And Suzani's 96th Turkish division was routed.  The Captain says they might get cut-off from their army. 

The soaves come rushing over and down the ridge to intermix with the French troops.  And now here appears the Prussians on top of the ridge. The Prussians are in a neat, line formation, while the French are a bit scattered and broken up.  The order is given for the Prussians to fire just before the French and soaves are told to fire by their side.  The French lose more men in the exchange of shots because the Prussians fired first.

The French and soaves start retreating.  Pierre tells his friend Rouget that he will pick him up and carry him out of here, but here comes a Prussian to bayonet Pierre.  The bayonet just grazes the right side of his face and his arm, while Pierre thrusts his bayonet into the mid-section of the Prussian.  Pierre looks at his friend and sees that he's dead now.   He takes off to get away from the oncoming Prussians. 

Pierre is now separated from his unit.  He falls to the ground from his wounds.  When he gets up he realizes the horror of war  There are dead Frenchmen and soaves all over the main battlefield.  He sees a small boy running through the battlefield and heading into the woods.  Pierre decides to go that way too.

Pierre starts walking to find his unit.  He finds a cabin instead.  He goes inside and finds the place in shambles.  He downs some food in the house, but hears a noise in the cabin.  He tells the person to come out.  It's probably the little boy that Pierre saw earlier.  Pierre demands to know if the boy is all alone, but the boy won't say anything.  Now they hear voices and clanging.  The boy tells Pierre to come with him and they run away from the cabin. 

In the woods, they take a rest stop.  Pierre keeps talking to the boy, but the boy just says that he doesn't understand what Pierre is saying.  The boy goes over to a raised platform where they can stay for the night. 

Back at home, Arnaud asks the postman if there has been a letter from Pierre?  None for Pierre's family but there was a letter to Henriette.  So Arnaud goes to see Henriette and asks her if Pierre's unit is in the fighting at Alsace?  He says he would have gone to the army himself if had known that there was going to be a war on.  He also says he feels bad because he took Pierre from Henriette.   She says that was not Arnaud's fault, but rather it was Pierre's decision.  She asks now that Arnaud just leave her alone.  She leaves. 

Pierre and the boy play by the river skimming stones across the water.  They see some Prussians on horseback approaching them.  The two take off running as the Prussians shoot at them.  Walking in the woods the two guys almost get trampled by some runaway army horses.  They walk some more, but then hear the firing of many rifles.  And down the road comes the refugees fleeing from the oncoming Prussians.

The Prussians have control of the town now.  They demand that the residents turn over any French person to them. 

The two guys go into the town to get some food.  When they do, a Prussian soldiers comes in and tries to shoot Pierre.  But Pierre shoots him first.  Now they have to run to get away.  In the process, Pierre gets his rifle caught on something and he has to leave the rifle behind. 

The two guys take refuge in a barn.  They are rudely awakened by a pitchfork.  A bunch of farmers have discovered them.  They say that Pierre is a deserter hiding behind a little boy.  Pierre denies that he is a deserter.  He shows he was wounded in battle.  The little boy speaks up for Pierre saying Pierre protected him from the Prussians.  The farmers realize that the boy is Alsatian and they will help him find his parents.  The boy wants to stay with Pierre, but the farmers take him.  A farmer points out the direction in which the French soldiers went.  Pierre tells the boy it's best to go with the farmers.  They part company. 

Pierre continues walking but hears footsteps behind him.  He hides behind a big rock and sees his little buddy following him again.  So they continue walking together. 

They find the French lines, but also have to hide from a Prussian unit marching to their front   Pierre says they will wait for nightfall. 

At night they go down to the river.  They hide behind some bushes, but the little boy stands up and is fired upon.  Pierre pulls him back down to the ground.  The little boy waits until the firing stops and tells Pierre to come, but Pierre has been shot again.  The boy helps pull Pierre down to the boat. Pierre rolls into the boat with the help of the young lad.  They float down the stream in the night. 

Arnaud comes to Henriette.   She doesn't want to talk to him, but he says that he found out that Pierre's unit was in Alsace.  Arnaud says he will find out more, because he has enlisted in the army.  Henriette says:  "Then you'll both be gone, for no reason."  Arnaud leaves. 

A refugee running from the Prussians sees the little boy in the boat.  He stops and has the boy come with him.  He pushed the boat back out into the middle of the river and the sleeping Pierre continues his drift down the river. 

The man who took the little boy tells him that the Prussians, the swine, are head for Paris.  He says he will have to take care of the boy.  But in the morning the man leaves the boy behind and moves along with his donkey and wagon.  But now here comes the boy following the man.  So they continue their journey together.  The man is a peddler and along the way he sells goods or trades goods with others. 

Henrietta is up on a hill with her sheep.  She sees a rider coming fast headed for the town.

Arnaud's father tries to talk him out of going into the army.  He says the French have already lost the war.  And, besides, it's a slaughter on the front lines.

The peddler and the boy are now in Sauvagnac.  In fact, they are at the site where Pierre left his axe to get it when he returned from the army.  The locals think that the boy and the peddler are Prussian spies.  They go out possibly to kill these "Prussians".  In the woods Henriette tells them not to kill the boy and the man.  She sees in the boy's hand a carving like Pierre's carvings.  She asks him in French where did he get the carving?  The boy says he got it from Pierre?  Henriette tries to confirm definitely that this is from Pierre, but the two don't speak each others' language.  The men set fire to the peddler wagon.  The donkey takes off running and as the wagon bumps along the burning goods fall to the ground and start fires in the woods.

The fire is spotted and the church bells are ringing out.  Arnaud's father rushes home and his wife wants to know what's going on.  He says he doesn't really know.  The men are saying something about having caught a Prussian spy in the woods.  They also says something about Pierre and a little boy too.  Arnaud comes riding back to check on the fires.  The peddler and the boy are tied to each other and can't get their ropes off.  The fire gets closer and closer to them.  Henriette comes back with the towns people to save the peddler and the boy and to help put out the fire. 

Arnaud comes out of the fire carry the little boy.  He says he couldn't save the man.  One of the villagers speaks the boy's language and the woman confirms that the boy was with Pierre in Alsace. 

Arnaud reports for his military duty. 

The little boy is happy in France.  He stays with Henriette.  And now coming down the river is Pierre's boat.  He's playing his home-made flute in the boat even if we can't see him.  Maybe he's just laying down and we can't see him.  Let's hope so. 

 

 

Good film, but not that much history.  It's mostly about love and friendship in the time of the Prussian-French War.  A poor, young fellow named Pierre sells his lucky draft number to a rich, local man in order to save his family from complete ruin.  He gets called up and has to leave for the military.  In doing so, he has to leave not only his family, but his much beloved girlfriend Henriette too.  Pierre gets wounded and separated from his unit.  He teams up with an small Alsatian boy whose parents are probably dead.  The two fellows don't speak each others' language.  The film mostly deals with the long journey home on which the two fellows run into many serious obstacles. 

 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 

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