The Sorrow and the Pity aka Le Chagrin et la Pitie, written, directed by Marcel Ophuls
The Sorrow and the Pity is one of the best documentaries ever made and it is one of the few to be included on the authoritative New York Times ‘Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made list:
furthermore, the film maker who wrote the material with Andre Harris, Marcel Ophuls, the calm interviewer asking pertinent questions in so many frames has produced, directed and wrote the script for another chef d’oeuvre- Hotel Terminus- which elaborates in about four hours- the approximate duration of Le Chagrin et la Pitie- on the escape, the life in South America and the capture of Klaus Barbie, a loathsome war criminal.
The Sorrow and the Pity takes viewers, through the intermediary offered by many witnesses, to the dark period of the World War II, in occupied France, when the Nazis were in control, but unlike any other European country, the government of Marechal Petain collaborated with the fascists in a despicable, unique manner, at times issuing laws that went even further than Hitler and his acolytes.
The documentary is more than balanced in that, during its long four hours and eleven minutes of material, the director is talking with people from all sides: former Resistance fighters, leaders and communists within this organization, former German officers, soldiers and prisoners of war, members of the pro-Nazi French groups, the son-in law of the former president Laval, ex-prime minister, Jewish luminaries and survivors, a woman who has been captured by the liberation forces and then jailed, although she says she was innocent, in spite of her declared sympathy for the Vichy regime, there seems to be no side left that is not asked to express a point of view.
And opinions are evidently as different as possible, even within a certain faction, unit, like the French Resistance, whose head, Colonel Du Jonchay, was against the presence of the communists in his movement and when asked, he explains that these [people had a different interest, they fought for Russia in fact, a number of them had been condemned and overall, he obviously had a bad opinion, even when sked by the British to unify the forces fighting the Germans.
Those present on camera are asked if they made a difference between ordinary Germans and the Nazis and some Resistance fighters did not, saying that all were the enemy- the psychology Milgram experiments seem to demonstrate, apart from the principle of Obedience to Authority, that the Germans might have followed their leaders not from devotion to their ideals, but only out of respect for authority.
British people are invited to share their experience and opinions, one of them is the aristocratic, graceful Lord Avon aka Anthony Eden, who spoke exquisite French and was very amiable, even when the issue of the French attitude is brought up: the British and their allies had had a pact that they would stop fighting their common enemy on their own, they must consult with their comrades, but alas, the French did not do that, and that was very vile.
On the other hand, supporters of the Petain regime, considered that the attack of the British fleet on the French navy was horrible and ignoble, forgetting to mention that the French commander received a variety of options- surrender, move to a British port, join the Allies in the fight, and he refused all of them, leaving the other side with no option but to destroy ships that would be used by their detestable opponents in the near future.
Arthur Eden is very graceful when he is asked about the collaboration of the regime and he says that no person from another country could judge, unless they have been through the ordeal experienced by the /French who had to suffer occupation, the humiliation, shortages, destitution, embarrassment, psychological and physical distress brought by the occupying armies and the henchmen of the Gestapo, the SS and the Wehrmacht.
British agents are interviewed and they both relate to the help offered by the common French people, although one makes a difference between the simple, the workers and the bourgeoisie- the former offered the support that the latter did not provide- and there is even a story inserted here- one of the secret agents, Denis Rake, was a homosexual in a relationship with a German, who did not know the truth and Rake never told him about his allegiance.
The anti-Semitism of many French was terrifying, especially when they tried to justify in some stupid way or another, many innocents have been sent to death camps from France, women and children, together with men, with the participation – active of passive of ordinary citizens- even if some claim they have not been aware of what was going on.
One of those who chose to become a Nazi pretended that, although he knew that Jewish men and women were taken away, he thought that they would have the same fate as French prisoners of war still held in Germany, where Maurice Chevalier sang- this is one of the small public statements that are so embarrassing- the artist explains he never toured Germany, even if it was said he was killed by various groups, including the liberators, he is alive and well.
He did not tour Germany- maybe, but this is so preposterous, it sounds like saying I did not walk with that killer, but endorsed him all the way, admired his bravery in killing so many, applauded him, cheered him on, but never, ever walked with him in my life!
An incredible number of seven thousand French men fought wearing German uniforms on the eastern front and some explained their potion though their hatred of the Bolsheviks and although one could share the loathing, especially someone who lived under communism- like the undersigned- it is not sensible to see the danger posed by a lion and at the same time walk over to be trampled by an elephant.