I don’t have a ton of time so I thought I’d just toss together a quick little entry today. I’m a junkie for French history. I love it. And I especially love occupation-era movies because it’s kind of a neat little sociology lesson about France- the way they dealt with the Vichy regime, all of the nasty political undercurrents, the resistance, the proverbial “sorrow and the pity” regarding their role in the Holocaust. I find it absolutely fascinating. Here’s a list of ten films about Occupation-era France.
1. Le Corbeau
The best of the bunch, in my opinion. Clouzot took Nazi money to make a movie that absolutely blasted the Nazis and the Vichy regime and the Nazi collaborators. It’s a lesson in subtle protest and rebellion.
2. Forbidden Games
René Clement’s heart-breaking film about children and war.
3. Diary of a Chambermaid
It’s not specifically about the occupation but it takes place during it, and there’s a big fat dose of French xenophobia on display in at least one scene.
4. Lacombe Lucien
A Louis Malle film that brilliantly taps into precisely why the French felt so much post-WWII guilt. Malle uses a pubescent boy’s coming of age to weave the tale.
5. Au Revoir les Enfants
This is also from Malle and serves as the kid brother to Lacombe Lucien. It’s one of Malle’s most biographical and personal works.
6. Army of Shadows
The intro scene is one of the more visually stunning pieces I’ve seen put to film, with the Nazis marching through the Arc de Triomphe. More than any other film on the list, Army of Shadows focuses on the French Resistance. I could be way off base but it sure felt like Steven Spielberg’s Munich was heavily influenced by Army of Shadows.
7. A Man Escaped
A slow, subtle piece from Robert Bresson (is there any other kind than ‘slow and subtle’ when it comes to Bresson?) about a French prisoner’s escape from a Nazi prison.
8. The Sorrow and the Pity
A documentary film famously seen in theaters on a date by Woody Allen’s character in Annie Hall, The Sorrow and the Pity is an immensely comprehensive documentary that spackles together actual propaganda footage and interviews of anyone involved at all. What comes out is a four hour painstakingly detailed portrait of mistrust, xenophobia, anti-semitism, paranoia, and raw apathy in the face of evil.
9. Inglorious Basterds
I don’t know what to say about this one other than this- if you haven’t seen it yet, go see it right now. Immediately.
10. Night and Fog
Ok, I’m cheating a little bit here. This is about Auschwitz, but I’m lumping it in for two reasons. 1) It was made by a French filmmaker, Alain Resnais. And 2) it’s a must-see for anyone. When it comes to defining pieces of cinema as “important”, you really can’t top Night and Fog. It’s very hard to watch. It’s only 30 minutes long but it’s the longest 30 minutes you’ll ever spend in your life. It is, in short, absolutely brutal. And it is absolutely real footage of what happened at Auschwitz.