Real Stories of Love and Loss: 14 War Stories
Directed by Jan Peter
BBC America, 2014
430 minutes, in color and B&W
Standard Edition DVD, $29.98
14 War Stories deftly presents a human perspective on the First World War that is simultaneously wide-ranging and personal. The title is a pun in that it dramatizes the lives of 14 ordinary people whose lives were upended by the events of the summer of ’14. All of their words are from their diaries and letters; some have been published and others have languished unseen in archives and private collections for a century.
Among the fascinating people you’ll meet are Yves Conger, a young boy from Sedan who lives under German occupation for four years; Marina Yurlova, a Russian Cossack girl who becomes a soldier fighting on the Caucasian Front; and Louis Barthas, a forty-something barrel maker and socialist who survives the war as a French poilu. Even WW1 readers who have read widely will probably know how the lives of only a few of the 14 turned out, creating true suspense.
This is truly an international production. Jan Peter is a German documentary filmmaker who insisted that the 14 storytellers speak in their own languages—seven in all. Curiously, these are rendered into English sometimes in subtitles and sometimes with voiceovers. The dramatized footage was filmed in Alsace, a place that combines German and French history, and in Quebec, where the use of an abandoned quarry made it possible to construct realistic trenches and create actual explosions. The dramatizations are juxtaposed with carefully restored archival footage that creates a realistic feel to the unfolding events.
This documentary consists of eight episodes that follow the lives of the 14 storytellers in roughly chronological order. There is a bonus feature that describes how 14 War Stories was made.
Reviewed by Steve Suddaby, past president WW1HA