(DE 1914)

This film, most likely a German actuality made in Belgium in August 1914, partly documents the German invasion of Belgium. Although it contains Italian titles, there are several indications that it is a German production. First, it’s unlikely any other cameraman would have been able to shoot images of German troops peacefully wandering around Belgian cities. Second, this is a propaganda film with a pro-German bias. In stark contrast to other newsreels made in Belgium during this period, L’invasione carefully avoids shooting the destruction that was all around, making it a truly unique record. Third, the film is shot on Messter film stock, with Italian titles provided by Monopolio Emilio Perani, Genoa. The print is composed of the second and third parts of an apparent series called “Documenti delle Guerre Mondiale” [sic]; most of the film consists of actuality footage, though staged scenes are added at the end.
In the first part (announced onscreen as the second part of the series), the cameraman followed in the footsteps of the Second German Army, allowing us to more-or-less date the film. In the first scene we see the fortress of the city of Huy and the demolished bridge over the River Meuse. The Second German Army crossed the Meuse on 12 August 1914, and demolished the bridge immediately afterwards, making it likely that the film was shot a few days later. These images are followed by a brief panning shot across the main square in the village of Tamines, making no reference to the horrific events of 21-22 August, when over 380 civilians were killed. Since we see a German soldier in the image, this footage must have been shot after the occupation of the village.
The next location is Namur. The city fell into German hands (23 August) while it was preparing for the annual Belgian independence celebrations (usually observed the third weekend of August). As the titles point out, we can still see the festive decorations on the façade of the railway station. The German Army had obviously just arrived; cars still loaded with suitcases are parked in front of the station and German troops are hanging around, seemingly waiting for orders.
A title next announces the beginning of the third part of the film. The setting changes to Brussels, which surrendered on 20 August, so the cameraman must have arrived shortly after that date. Besides the large presence of German soldiers (this time from the First Army), the streets around Brussels’ Gare du Nord are empty. The title that follows, announcing footage shot on the Grand’ Place, makes an odd reference to the beheading of the Count of Egmont on the “Grande Place” in 1568. Historians consider this event the factual beginning of the revolt of the Low Countries against the Roman Catholic King, Philip II of Spain, hereditary ruler of the provinces. The southern provinces (Belgium) initially joined in the revolt but later submitted to Spain. The intertitle connects this historical event to the present-day fact that the German military administration had now settled in Brussels. From here on, the film employs a more obviously propagandistic tone.
The following section shows what, on a possible note of irony, it calls a “Prussian Camp Kitchen” on the “Grande Place”. Red-tinted images show how food is prepared in a large kettle installed on a mobile kitchen truck parked outside the Brussels City Hall. The next scene switches gears and looks almost like a tourist film, as a German soldier visits the statue of the Manneken Pis.
From this point onwards the film changes completely. The setting is now Louvain, and the viewer’s attention is directed to the gradual return of refugees (the city fell on 19 August, and the first refugees returned shortly afterwards). We see a staged scene of an encounter between a Belgian peasant family and friendly German soldiers who are handing out bread, before switching back to Namur, with another obviously staged scene of a German soldier helping a Belgian family. This smooth combination of fiction and non-fiction further highlights the film’s propaganda intentions. The reel ends rather abruptly with a misplaced title-card.
I would like to express my thanks to Luke McKernan for sharing his thoughts on this film.

Leen Engelen

regia/dir: ?.
prod: ?.
copia/copy: DCP, 12’48”; did./titles: ITA.
fonte/source: Fondazione CSC – Archivio Nazionale Cinema d’Impresa, Ivrea.