The Sorrow and the Pity (1969) | Bluray/DVD release

July 4th, 2017
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Marcel Ophuls | 265min | Doc | French |

The Nazi occupation of France went on for nearly five years and Marcel Ophuls’ seminal documentary brings the era to life in an absorbing and contemplative afternoon’s viewing (265min). Well-paced, lavish and convincing, THE SORROW AND THE PITY is set in Clermont-Ferrand, 20 miles from Vichy, and unfolds through a series of newly-shot interviews, original footage and political propaganda material to provide a historical testament to the suffering of a nation under the Nazi cosh, under the leadership of Marshal Pétain.

Ophuls sets the tone with a note of menace as France falls victim to the German overlords. Maurice Chevalier’s mellow music add a poignancy to the images of Hitler swanning round the streets of a Paris back-footed by the invasion of its enemy and often betrayed by its own bourgeoisie, desperate to save their own skins. Stories of collaboration sit alongside those of un-patriotic cowardliness and cold-blooded deceit that will be justified and dusted under the carpet decades later. Bizarre recollections sit alongside banal ones: an upmarket gentleman recalls the excellent hunting season of 1942, whilst a shopkeeper called Klein took out announcement in the small ads to assert his non-Jewishness.

Originally made for television, the film was banned by the French authorities for obvious reasons that will rapidly become clear: This complex and nuanced tribute rather blows the myth of Vichy’s proud Patriotism out of the water with the middle classes denouncing their working class countryman. The film also showcases the heroes of the Resistance offering vivid snapshots of their personal stories: high-school students who naively and courageously gave their lives and the legendary Maquis represented by stocky French gang leader Gaspar still embittered by his memories of the era. Then there are the ordinary French citizens just making the best of a bad situation in recollections that will remain seared to the collective memory. MT


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