Film Studies (FMS) 189: Special Topics – France’s “Dark Years”: Postwar French Cinema Remembers a Difficult Past
This course examines one of the most important questions that artists, politicians, and legislators in most European nations face today: what are the responsible, ethical ways of dealing with a difficult national past? Our course addresses this question by investigating the diverse roles that films have played and still play in post-World War II (WWII) construction of memories of WWII in France. We focus on films dealing with the memory of WWII in France, the German Occupation of France, the Vichy regime and its politics and policies.Our objective is the examination and analysis of the ways film-makers use the medium of film to interpret contested, and controversial, historical events of WWII in France. How do different films deploy the medium of film to corroborate, or contest, existing narratives of the experiences of the Occupation during WW II? How do films use the medium of film to develop new narratives about those experiences? And how do films intervene to revise and respond to existing narrative accounts of France during the Occupation.
Topics included the following: analysis of filmic interpretations of the French Resistance; role of film in Vichy’s anti-Semitism; filmic interpretations of everyday life during the Occupation for the civil population; films as mediators of the impact of Vichy politics on women’s lives; conditions of film production during the Occupation.
Course Content: We study films by some of France’s most distinguished film-makers of the postwar period: Alain Resnais, Jean-Pierre Melville, Francois Truffaut, Louis Malle, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Audiard, and, of course, Max Ophuls’s film The Sorrow and the Pity. We also examine key cultural historical accounts of the Occupation (e.g., Henry Rousso’s The Vichy Syndrome), and a representative range of critical analysis of the roles of film in constituting and contesting individual and collective memories.