Thursday, February 02, 2006

Still Potent

The Sorrow and the Pity gets me every time. The footage of Hitler touring Notre-Dame de Paris, the footage of Hitler and Speer surveying the Eiffel Tower--such images arrest one with a sick fascination. Imagine Paris in the hands of those beasts, and it escaped unscathed! Think of Rouen, where I stayed for six weeks in 2002, or Caen--both nearly totally destroyed during the war. The Nazi propaganda footage of surrendering French colonial troops (from Cameroon, Lebanon, Morrocco) with the sneering racial contempt(voiceover in German: "The French claim to be fighting for the survival of civilization against a barbarian hoard!" Images of an African in a French uniform, of Africans dancing. "Well here are the defenders of civilization!" Then cut to lines of blond, strutting Nazis in full regalia. "And here are the barbarians!"). My blood boils each time I see it. The monarchists and the bourgeois accepted Hitler and National Socialism as an improvement over the Socialist presidency of Leon Blum, and Marechal Petain, the Hero of Verdun, moved into power and not only capitulated, but began the shameful collaboration that Marcel Orphuls documents so powerfully.

Paris may have escaped unscathed, but certainly not the French themselves. Orphul's film was a painful revelation, exposing many comfortable myths about the Occupation. But aside from the monarchists and the capitalists chumming with the Nazis, there were the poor, the laborers, the farmers, the Communists who fought continuously using sabotage and assassinations. Orphuls interviews them all, and talks to Germans, English ministers, and French politicians to boot. Often he skillfully contradicts what interviewees say with film clips shown during their responses. We get several perspectives on the awful Mers-el-Kebir incident and interpretations of its repurcussions from all the strata of French society.

A lot of Yanks have contempt for the French because of their defeat in WW2. The French fought for six weeks and lost a quarter of a million men--they had no choice but to stop fighting, especially considering the machinations of Petain and other right-wingers within the military and government who liked Hitler more than Blum. This was a debacle. Had the French continued to fight outright against a country with twice the population and a technically superior force they would have been annhilated. Keep in mind: England would have fallen as quickly without the English Channel to protect her. General Patton said that he'd trade six of his infantrymen for one member of the French resistance. Stop calling the French cowards, s'il vous plait.

But then there were the French (mostly aristocrats and industrialists) who fought with the Boule de Suif by the remarkably prescient Guy de Maupassant!

A brilliant work, but at more than 4hours one must be prepared.

No comments: