THE SORROW AND THE PITY, Marcel Ophuls' eye-opening documentary about French complicity in the Nazi Holocaust, has only grown in importance over the years, mainly because the subject matter has become increasingly remote to viewers. Though lengthy and obviously downbeat, the 1970 film
should be a staple for all serious filmgoers.
Through newsreels and the interviews with those that fought on both sides, THE SORROW AND THE PITY tells the story of the German occupation of France, mainly in the town of Clermont-Ferrand, during WWII. In Part One, "The Collapse," several French, German, and British observers look back at the
attack on France in June 1940. Part Two, "The Choice," details some of the incidents during the occupation and eventual liberation of Clermont-Ferrand.
THE SORROW AND THE PITY provides a refreshingly unemotional account of events during WWII in contrast to such romanticized Holocaust and war film stories that have aped the documentary form--including IS PARIS BURNING? (1966) and SCHINDLER'S LIST (1993). More in the tradition of Alain Resnais's
NIGHT AND FOG (1955), THE SORROW AND THE PITY searches for the truth through straightforward fact-finding. But unlike the short (32-minute) Resnais documentary, THE SORROW AND THE PITY (at 260 minutes) emphasizes not the victims, but the perpetrators (Nazis and the French collaborators) who speak
to Ophuls at length with openness and ease. (Combining the perspectives of both killers and survivors, Claude Lanzmann created the 9 1/2 hour SHOAH in 1984.) Ophuls, the son of director Max Ophuls, uses a form that is seemingly styleless, but really just as meticulous and carefully planned as
anything his father might have made. The "talking head" format is deceptively simple and "balanced." But Ophuls brilliantly indicts the fascists interviewed with their own words, and contradicts their assertions with newsreel footage. In an opening sequence, Maurice Chevalier entertains German
soldiers, but, in the closing sequence defends himself in a newsreel as having only entertained French POWs in Germany. Thus, the truth brings down this symbol of Gallic France for a devastating finale.
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- Review: THE SORROW AND THE PITY, Marcel Ophuls' eye-opening documentary about French complicity in the Nazi Holocaust, has only grown in importance over the years, mainly because the subject matter has become increasingly remote to viewers. Though lengthy and obvi… (more)