THE SORROW AND THE PITY (1971) B/W widescreen 250m dir: Marcel Ophuls
w/Pierre Mendes-France, Louis Grave, Albert Speer, Anthony Eden
Stunning documentary about anti-Semitism and the division of France between Nazi occupation and the collaborationist Vichy regime during WWII. Many respectable Frenchmen succumbed to the virus of racial and religious bigotry, as director Ophuls makes devastatingly clear in dozens of interviews.
From Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film by Erik Barnouw: "[Director Marcel] Ophuls, son of fiction-film director Max Ophuls [LA RONDE], was born in Germany in 1927 and moved with his family to France at the time Hitler came to power. In 1940 the family fled to the United States, where Marcel attended Hollywood High School and Occidental College. In 1950 he returned to France and became active in French film and television --- for ORTF, L'Office de Radiodiffusion-Television Francaise. His documentary on events leading to World War II, Munich, or the Hundred-Year Peace (Munich, ou la Paix pour Cent Ans, 1967), was broadcast by ORTF with much success, but was then withdrawn from circulation and suppressed; it had apparently touched sensitive nerves in high places. Ophuls was fired the following year after his involvement in a strike of film directors against ORTF. But the work begun with the Munich film --- originally projected as the first part of a trilogy --- had achieved momentum: the second part, dealing with the war years, won a combination of West German and Swiss backing. Completed as The Sorrow and the Pity, it was rejected by French television but went on to smashing successes on television in several other countries, and in theaters in France and elsewhere.
"The subject: wartime France under Nazi control. The method: interviews with survivors, alternating with archive footage. The results were unexpected and explosive, largely because of skillful work by Ophuls as interviewer and provocateur. The war years were veiled in myth --- the heroic saga of the resistance, as built up over a quarter of a century. With patient prodding and questioning, Ophuls reached a more complex reality behind it, a mixture of courage, cowardice, venality, dedication. Like the psychoanalytic process, his quest was simultaneously resisted and welcomed by interviewees. Some agreed to be interviewed, then delayed, finally went ahead. Former Premier Pierre Mendes-France agreed to a half-hour interview, then talked seven hours. To audiences, the revelations brought feelings of horror and release. Precisely because of these tensions, the probe had the impact of high drama.
"A Gaullist official, explaining why he had rejected the film for French television, was quoted: 'Myths are important in the life of a people. Certain myths must not be destroyed.' But the 1960's were a myth-destroying period."