Archive of films The Battle of the Rails / La bataille du rail

1946, 78 min

Section: World War II: 60 Years After
Year: 2005

A film, both documentary and feature, about the single-minded struggle of French railway workers against German occupying forces during the Second World War. In succinct dramatic sequences, extreme situations (e.g. the execution of one of the resistance fighters, persecution, the destruction of a military train) are combined with lightly comic scenes. Awarded the Grand Prix in Cannes in 1946.


The Cannes IFFwas re-launched in 1946. The award for Best Direction surprisingly went to the unassuming, half-documentary, half-feature film The Battle of the Rails by director René Clément. The newly established company Coopérative Générale du Cinéma Français, supported by the railway workers resistance organisation Résistance-Fer, chose Clément as a director, since they were acquainted with his short films, which also included first-rate documentaries about the daily life of railway workers. The initial aim of both the company and the director, namely to bear testimony to the role played by French railway workers in the fight against the German occupation, grew into a collective drama. In amongst the documentary footage, the director quite spontaneously interwove acted sequences, which retain the same degree of authenticity as the documentary shots. With very few exceptions, the film’s protagonists are non-actors, actual railway workers. 

About the director

René Clément (1913, Bordeaux-1996) studied architecture at Paris’s Academy of Fine Arts. From the mid-1930s on he began to work as a cameraman and director of documentary films. During the occupation he was involved in the resistance movement while, at the same time, documenting the French resistance with his film camera. After the war, these shots became the basis for his first feature, The Battle of the Rails, considered the first neorealist work. The war also underlies what is probably his most important film, The Secret Game (Les jeux interdits, 1951), here present in the conduct and behaviour of innocent children. The film was awarded at Cannes in 1952 and also won the Venice Grand Prix that year, and in 1953 it won an Oscar. Clément’s filmography in the following years contains works of varying genres. Apart from an adaptation of Zola’s novel The Kill under the title Gervaise, he made comedies (Knave of Hearts / Monsieur Ripois; The Joy of Living / Che gioia vivere; Joy House / Les félins) and crime stories (Purple Noon Plein soleil; Rider on the Rain / Le passager de la pluie, etc.). The majority of his films were popular with audiences. The critics acknowledge Clément’s excellent technical skills, but condemn his films’ somewhat impersonal aloofness.


National Film Archive
Malešická 12, 130 00, Praha 3
Czech Republic

Institut national de l`audiovisuel
83-85, rue de Patay, 75013, Paris
Tel: +33 1 498 320 00

About the film

Black & white, 35 mm

Section: World War II: 60 Years After
Director: René Clément
Screenplay: René Clément, Colette Audry
Dir. of Photography: Henri Alekan
Music: Yves Baudrier
Editor: Jacques Desagneaux
Production: Coopérative Générale du Cinéma Français
Cast: Jean Clarieux, Jean Daurand, Jacques Desagneaux, Pierre Latour
Contact: National Film Archive, Institut national de l`audiovisuel


Briana Čechová

Film Institution Rep.


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