Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Chagrin et la Pitié
[Sorrow and the Pity]


Inevitably, this film is too long to support its content, but it does exert a morbid fascination. It asks: “What did you do in the Occupation, Daddy?” a question that re-lives the sorrow and the pity of that occupation.

People consider more what they have to lose than to gain, which is why so few joined the Maquis while so many claimed to be members. The greatest pleasure in this film is watching a bunch of aging Frenchmen animatedly reminisce about their days in the Resistance. Essentially a band of misfits who would likely never have come together for any other reason, they found war to be their route to selfhood. War clearly brings out the best in people as well as the worst.

The guilt and shame of postwar France comes from the widespread political collaboration, with the Germans, of Vichy: Essentially rendering themselves a pro-German Axis power. The endemic anti-Semitism of French culture led French police to help the Nazis find Jews and become vigorously complicit in the Holocaust. French laws were even more racist than German ones as genetic murder is an effective means of eliminating the economic and political competition.

As it can be difficult to separate a German from a Nazi, it can be hard to distinguish a patriot from a collaborator. It is all too easy to condemn collaborators, from the outside, but this is morally-complex territory. The fact that France was the only country involved in the Second World War occupied by Nazi Germany to agree an armistice - rather than simply surrender - damns the whole country as collaborationist. Of all the occupied lands, the French were the most conscientious rounders-up of jews for transportation to the gas chambers; leading one to the conclusion that France is as endemically anti-semitic as Germany. This is as good an example as any of the recurrent bouts of European phenotypism that regularly comes to the surface.

The political defeat of France in 1940 was inevitable but the military failure was not since France possessed a more powerful military than Nazi Germany. The Germans exploited this by partitioning France and thus dividing it against itself.

The lack of moral complexity of this documentary is evinced in contemporary issues such as the ethical difficulty of being White in a country unhealthily obsessed with skin pigmentation. Or a Westerner in a world apparently running out of the resources Westerners are squandering.

The ultimate moral issue is food since without it one cannot be a moral entity - the dead are amoral, after all. If the Third World starves, the First will not take the food from its children's mouths to feed it. If a qualified Black is not hired because he is black, the less qualified White then employed would not renounce his post if he learned of this.

Collaboration is more complex than this film admits since the movie never draws any useful parallels with other areas of collaborationist thought and activity.

The occupation of ones homeland is a classic example of discovering what people are really like. They are usually very willing to exploit the unethical advantages of collaboration to obtain financial advantages. A give-me-your-watch-and-I’ll-tell-you-the-time point made more simply and more profoundly in a thriller like Inside Man. The narrow moral focus here is as unethical as the collaboration being condemned.

Copyright © 2013 Frank TALKER. Permission granted to reproduce and distribute it in any format; provided that mention of the author’s Weblog (http://franktalker.blogspot.com/) is included: E-mail notification requested. All other rights reserved.
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