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Film / The Sorrow and the Pity

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"Collaboration is 'give me your watch, I'll give you the time'."

The Sorrow and the Pity is a 1969 film directed by Marcel Ophuls.

It is a documentary recounting the history of France's defeat in World War II and the following four years in which France was occupied by the Germans and governed by the Nazi-friendly "Vichy France" regime of Marshal Phillipe Petain. Ophuls centers his film around the town of Clermont-Ferrand in Auvergne. Part I, "The Collapse", prominently features Pierre Mendes-France, a Resistance leader who joined Charles de Gaulle in Britain, fought against the Germans, and became a prominent post-war politician who was briefly Prime Minister of France. Part II, "The Choice", takes the opposite perspective and features Christian de la Maziere, an aristocratic fascist who fought for Hitler in the French division of the Waffen SS, and who later served a brief prison term.

The overall theme of the film is that the romantic tales of the French Resistance were not the norm, and that in fact, most of the people of France either were indifferent or actively collaborated with the Germans.

Years later, Ophuls would return with Hotel Terminus which deals with the trial of Klaus Barbie, the Nazi official who oversaw operations in Lyon that led to the arrest and death of Jean Moulin, and likewise revisits the memory of Occupation and Resistance.


  • A Birthday, Not a Break: Anthony Eden recalls his and Churchill's last sad departure from France in June 1940, then mentions that it happened on his birthday.
  • Blatant Lies: A cyclist states that the Germans never came to Clermont. After his "We never saw the Germans" is posted on the screen as a title card, the pharmacist appears and notes that Clermont was chock-full of Germans.
  • Buried Alive: M. Menut of the Resistance says his wife, Marinette Menut (who has a street named after her in Clermont) was still alive when she was chucked into a grave by the Germans after being tortured.
  • The Cameo: At the very end of the movie, none other than Maurice Chevalier is featured in a stock footage interview in which he says, in English, that he did not make a tour of Nazi Germany but only played one show for French POWs. Then one of Chevalier's songs plays over the last clip of de Gaulle in Clermont, and the closing credits.
  • Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: Discussed. It is noted that France was the only one of the several countries that Hitler conquered to make a formal peace with Nazi Germany. While all of the other countries in Hitler's Europe had governments-in-exile in London, France officially did not. This left Charles De Gaulle and the Free French in a very awkward position and undercut their ability to contribute to the the anti-Nazi war effort, since they had little authority. De Gaulle had to push himself into a position as a leader by pure will and charismatic authority rather than any claim to law. Its official government at the time was in fact the Vichy regime under Petain.
  • Les Collaborateurs: Lots of them. Lots and lots. De la Mazière was only one of 7,000 Frenchmen to serve in the "Charlemagne" division of the Waffen SS. Dr. Levy claims that the French regime under Laval passed laws that were even more racist than in Germany, and arrested Jewish children when the Nazi occupiers hadn't even asked them to.
    Dr. Claude Levy: France is the only country in Europe whose government collaborated.
  • Epic Movie: Four hours long! Originally planned as a television documentary until it was banned from airing in France.
  • I Did What I Had to Do:
    • Pierre Laval didn't live to say it, but his son-in-law defends him by saying that Laval made hard choices in order to save as many French Jews as possible. This is immediately followed by an interview with Dr. Claude Levy in which Levy says that any government that would hand over people to the Nazis isn't worthy of its country.
    • Some of the interviewees also imply that de Gaulle had to promote a "myth of the Resistance" (that the majority of France had resisted against the Nazis and collaborators were few, rather than the reverse) because in the immediate aftermath where so much bitterness and post-war violence and recrimination was brewing, another alternative could have led to civil war.
    • The documentary also states and implies that this was a case for many French artists who had to work in Occupied France, and in the case of Maurice Chevalier, even perform before Nazi soldiers. Chevalier appears in the end where he briefly acknowledges the unpleasant situation of the Occupation before singing a song that plays over the credits.
  • The Ken Burns Effect: Used from time to time with stills. One particularly effective usage has the camera focus on a picture of Petain only to slowly pan over to Hitler, thus illustrating their 1940 summit meeting.
  • Nazi Nobleman: A chyron describes De la Mazière as "an aristocratic former Nazi."
  • Propaganda Machine: Includes quite a bit of fascist wartime propaganda, both German propaganda aimed at encouraging the French to support the Germans and work in Germany, and homegrown French propaganda urging support of Petain.
  • Redemption Rejection: De la Maziere admits that he was approached by the Resistance more than once, but blew them off.
  • La Résistance: Well, they were a thing, as Pierre Mendes-France proves, but very few French people made that choice, especially in the immediate aftermath of defeat. One villager says that he joined the Resistance because he got pissed off when German occupiers ate all the steaks made from local cows. They note that after the war, President Charles de Gaulle upheld the "myth of the resistance" as a necessary noble lie to smooth over reality and heal the tensions.
  • Shocking Defeat Legacy: The fall of France and the collapse of the Maginot Line is treated as this. Ophuls also takes time to interview some of the German generals behind that attack and the latter, despite Denazification, cannot help but gloat about their victory.
  • State Sec: Laval's secret police, which proved pretty good at arresting Jews. They were behind the notorious Round-Up of Vel d'Hiv.
  • Stock Footage: This forms the bulk of the movie, with combat footage, old newsreels, and more.
  • Talking Heads: Lots, from VIPs like Anthony Eden and Pierre Mendes-France to humble, common citizens of Clermont.
  • Title Drop: A Clermont pharmacist and Resistance member is asked if there was anything besides courage in the Resistance. He answers “Of course. But the two emotions I experienced most often were sorrow and pity.”
  • Traumatic Hair Cut: Women who slept with Nazis were subject to post-war reprisals, where their hair was cut and they were humiliated for their "collaboration horizontale".
  • We ARE Struggling Together: A problem for the Resistance. An interview with an enthusiastic French Communist is juxtaposed with his leader, an anti-Communist Catholic who opines that the Communists in the Resistance were only in it to defend Russia.
  • You Can Leave Your Hat On: A brief clip of topless dancers in Paris, illustrating that while the majority of French people suffered, a few were enjoying the good life.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: A theater owner in Clermont describes the partisans who threw grenades at a column of German soldiers as "terrorists." This was Truth in Television: the Nazis and their puppets described all partisans in every occupied region as terrorists.