Thursday, September 30, 2010
Le Silence de la Mer
This is a film set during the German Occupation of France during WW2. The director experienced this period first hand which gives the film veracity.
A German officer is lodged with an elderly citizen and his niece in the country side. On the surface France under Occupation seems a peaceful place--shops do business, people go around doing their duties, horse carriages move in the street. But the price of capitulation has been paid for this tense and unnatural peace.. The French co-operate with the Germans in a sullen and defiant way.
The Officer is very un-Nazi like in terms of his courtesy, consideration towards his French hosts and quite apologetic about having had to barge in. He is a man of culture and music and idealistically believes that the German Occupation is the beginning of a great new era of Utopian peace and friendship between the two nations.
The Uncle and niece maintain absolute silence throughout the film, not so much as acknowledging his presence. The Uncle continues at his reading and his pipe while his niece will not raise her eyes from her knitting as the uninvited guest continues in his reverie. The German, a lover of French culture visits them everyday and carries on a monologue about literature, music and his admiration for France and French things. Gradually the relationship between the Nazi officer and his French hosts mellows, and this is subtly probed through changes in gesture and expression.
Finally, on a visit to Paris, he learns of the concentration camps and the true German intention of crushing France in body and spirit. He returns, disillusioned and horrified to his hosts in the countryside and the film closes on a subdued note.
This is a simplistic and sentimental film. It would seem that the true horror of the reality and intentions of the Germans dawned slowly on the French, even as they were about to be squashed under the German heel. Perhaps they were even slower than the English to catch on. It is possible lots of Germans knew little of what was happening.
The film is based on a book of the same name which was secretly circulated during the Occupation. This must have been the way a large section of the French must have protested the alien presence. The activities of the militant Resistance Movement are documented in the same director's Army of Shadows. Clearly, the French Resistance was no Vietnam War.
I would rate it as the first assay by a fledgling film maker. It is a truthful parable about a people humiliated. And what a contrast to the American Occupation of Japan.
And, of course, not all Nazi's were bad. There was Schindler too.