The Sorrow and the Pity (French: Le Chagrin et la Pitié) is a two-part 1969 documentary film by Marcel Ophuls about the collaboration between the Vichy government and Nazi Germany during World War II.
The film shows the French people’s response to occupation as heroic, pitiable, and monstrous – sometimes all at once. The post-war humiliation of the women who served (or were married to) German soldiers perhaps gives the strongest mix of all three. Maurice Chevalier’s “Sweepin’ the Clouds Away” is the theme song of the film. He was a popular entertainer with the German occupation force.
Part two, The Choice, revolves around Christian de la Mazière, who is something of a counterpoint to Mendès France. Whereas Mendès France was a French Jewish political figure who joined the Resistance, de la Mazière, an aristocrat who embraced Fascism, was one of 7,000 French youth to fight on the Eastern Front wearing German uniforms.
Episode 01 here.
Interviews were conducted by Ophuls, André Harris or George Bidault, with:
- Georges Bidault.
- Matthäus Bleibinger.
- Charles Braun.
- Maurice Buckmaster.
- Emile Coulaudon.
- Emmanuel d’Astier de la Vigerie.
- Comte René de Chambrun.
- Christian de la Mazière.
- Jacques Duclos.
- Colonel Raymond Du Jonchay.
- Anthony Eden.
- Marcel Fouche-Degliame.
- Raphaël Géminiani.
- Alexis Grave.
- Louis Grave.
- Georges Lamirand.
- Pierre Le Calvez.
- Claude Levy.
- Pierre Mendès France.
- Elmar Michel.
- Denis Rake.
- Henri Rochat.
- Paul Schmidt.
- Edward Spears.
- Helmut Tausend.
- Roger Tounze.
- Marcel Verdier.
- Walter Warlimont.
Archival footage is interwoven through the film, featuring historical figures including:
- Emmanuel d’Astier de La Vigerie.
- Junie Astor.
- René Bousquet.
- Alphonse de Châteaubriant.
- Maurice Chevalier.
- Danielle Darrieux.
- Suzy Delair.
- Jacques Doriot.
- Charles de Gaulle.
- Raymond Guyot.
- Adolf Hitler.
- Reinhard Heydrich.
- Pierre Laval.
- Philippe Pétain.
- Albert Préjean.
- Viviane Romance.
Initially commissioned by French government-owned television to create a two part made for TV documentary, the film was banned after Ophuls submitted it to the studio that hired him.
Ophuls shot his film over a two-year period, gathering about 50 hours of potentially usable material to edit. The title is drawn from a scene in which a young woman asks her grandfather, a pharmacist, what he felt during the Occupation, and the sombre answer is just two stark emotions.
The film “had its world premiere in Germany.” and was first shown on French television in 1981 after being banned from that medium for years.
In 1969, after the director submitted the film to the studio that hired him, the network head “told a government committee that the film ‘destroys myths that the people of France still need'”. Frederick Busi suggests that this was because of how uncomfortable it is to face the reality of collaborationism. Writing of French conservative establishment groups’ reactions to the film, “They, too, preferred that little be said about their role, and in some ways this reluctance is more significant than that of the extremists, since they represent so large a segment of society and mainly dominate contemporary politics.”
It is frequently assumed that the reason was French reluctance to admit the facts of French history. While this may have been a factor, the principal mover in the decision was Simone Veil, a Jewish inmate of Auschwitz who became a minister and the first president of the European Parliament, on the grounds that the film presented too one-sided a view.
The first DVD release of the film in France came in November 2011. In the UK, home media releases include a 2017 DVD and Blu-Ray from Arrow Academy which, among its extra content, features a lengthy 2004 interview with Ophuls by Ian Christie.
In France, the film won the Grand Prize of the Dinard Festival.
In the United States, the film was nominated for an Academy Award in 1971 for Best Documentary Feature. In the same year, it received a special award by the National Society of Film Critics, “which called it ‘a film of extraordinary public interest and distinction’.” In 1972, it was named Best Foreign Language Film by the US National Board of Review.
In the UK, it won the 1972 BAFTA award for Best Foreign TV Programme.
In Popular Culture
Woody Allen’s film Annie Hall (1977) references The Sorrow and the Pity as a plot device. Film critic Donald Liebenson explains: “In one of the film’s signature scenes, Alvy Singer (Allen) suggests he and Annie (Diane Keaton) go see the film. ‘I’m not in the mood to see a four-hour documentary on Nazis,’ Annie protests. In the film’s poignant conclusion, Alvy runs into Annie as she is taking a date to see the film, which Alvy counts as ‘a personal triumph’.”
- The film uses interviews with a German officer, collaborators, and resistance fighters from Clermont-Ferrand.
- They comment on the nature of and reasons for collaboration, including antisemitism, Anglophobia, fear of Bolsheviks and Soviet invasion, and the desire for power.
- The title comes from a comment by interviewee Marcel Verdier, a pharmacist in Montferrat, Isère, who says “the two emotions I experienced the most [during the Nazi occupation] were sorrow and pity”.
Production & Filming Details
- Marcel Ophuls.
- Charles-Henri Favrod … co-producer.
- André Harris … producer.
- Alain de Sedouy … producer.
- Andre Harris.
- Marcel Ophuls.
- André Gazut.
- Jürgen Thieme.
- Claude Vajda.
- Télévision Rencontre.
- Société Suisse de Radiodiffusion et Télévision (SSR).
- Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR).
- Cinema 5 Distributing (1972) (USA) (theatrical) (dubbed).
- Milestone Film & Video (2001) (USA) (DVD) (re-release) (subtitled).
- Oscilloscope (2011) (USA) (DVD).
- Yleisradio (YLE) (1973) (Finland) (TV).
- Release Date: 18 September 1969 (Part 01) and 21 September 1969 (Part 02).
- Running time: 251 minutes (total running time).
- Rating: TV-G.
- Country: France, West Germany, and Switzerland.
- Language: English, French, and German.