Le Chagrin et la Pitie

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(The Sorrow and the Pity)

France-Germany-Switzerland, 1971

Director: Marcel Ophuls

Production: Television Rencontre (Lausanne), Nordeutscher Rundfunk (Hamburg), and Société Suisse de Radiodiffusion (Lausanne); black and white, 16mm; running time: original version—270 minutes, commercial release—256 minutes, other versions—245 minutes. Released 5 April 1971, Paris. Interview material filmed in the late 1960s in Clermont-Ferrand; film also includes newsreel footage from the 1940s.

Producers: André Harris and Alain de Sedouy; screenplay: Marcel Ophuls and André Harris; photography: André Gazut and Jurgen Thieme; editor: Claude Vajda; sound: Bernard Migy; songs sung by: Maurice Chevalier; documentarists: Eliane Filippi (France), Christoph Derschau (Germany), and Suzy Benghiat (Great Britain).

Interviews: (French witnesses) Emmanuel d'Astier de la Vigerie; Georges Bidault; Charles Braun; Pierre le Calvez; Comte Rene de Chambrun; Emile Coulaudon; MM. Danton and Dionnet; Jacques Duclos; Marcel Fouché-Degliame; Raphael Geminiani; Alexis and Louis Grave; R. du Jonchay; Marius Klein; Georges Lamirand; M. Leiris; Dr. Claude Lévy; Christian de la Mazière; Pierre Mendès-France; Commandant Menut; Monsieur Mioche; Maitre Henri Rochat; Madame Solange; Roger Tounze; Marcel Verdier; (English witnesses) The Earl of Avon (Sir Anthony Eden); General Sir Edward Spears; Maurice Buckmaster; Flight Sergeant Evans; Denis Rake; (German witnesses) Matheus Bleibinger; Dr. Elmar Michel; Dr. Paul Schmidt; Helmuth Tausend; General A. D. Walter Warlimont.

Awards: New York Film Critics' Special Citation as best documentary, 1971.



Ophuls, Marcel, and André Harris, "Le Chagrin et la pitié," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), July-September 1972; also published separately, Paris, 1980; translated as The Sorrow and the Pity, New York, 1972.


Barnouw, Erik, Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film, New York, 1974.

Macbean, James Roy, Film and Revolution, Bloomington, Indiana, 1975.

Payán, Miguel Juan, Max Ophuls, Madrid, 1987.

García Riera, Emilio, Max Ophüls, Guadalajara, 1988.

Tassone, Aldo, Max Ophuls: l'enchanteur, Torino, 1994.

White, Susan M., Cinema of Max Ophuls: Magisterial Vision and theFigure of a Woman, New York, 1995.


"Jean-Pierre Melville Talks to Rui Nogueira about Le Chagrin et lapitié," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1971–72.

Rubenstein, L., in Ceneaste (New York), Winter 1971–72.

Reilly, C. P., in Films in Review (New York), April 1972.

Silverman, M., in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1972.

"Le Chagrin et la pitié: La Critique," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), July-September 1972.

Ophuls, Marcel, "Regardez donc dans vos greniers," in Avant-Scènedu Cinéma (Paris), July-September 1972.

Gres, E., in Kosmorama (Copenhagen), October 1972.

Demby, B. J., "The Sorrow and the Pity, A Sense of Loss, A Discussion with Marcel Ophuls," in Filmmakers' Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), December 1972.

Busi, Frederick, "Marcel Ophuls and The Sorrow and the Pity," in Massachusetts Review (Amherst), Winter 1973.

Gans, H. J., in Film Critic (New York), November-December 1973.

"Why Should I Give You Political Solutions. Marcel Ophuls: An Interview," in Film Critic (New York), November-December 1973.

Jutkevic, S., "Razrusenie mifov," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), June 1974.

Pehlke, Michael, "Warte tun so leicht als wissen, was gut zu turist," in Filmkritik (Munich), October 1983.

Pehlke, Michael, in CICIM: Revue Pour le Cinéma Francais (Munich), March 1990.

* * *

French postwar cinema is not remarkable for its social or political analysis, and the number of films offering a critical re-examination of the Occupation during the first 25 years after the Liberation is minimal. But as part of the aftermath of the confrontations setting the authorities against students and workers in May, 1968, a move towards a more realistic approach occurs on a variety of levels. Le Chagrin et la pitié is a key example of this new mood, and its particular value is that it offers perhaps the first comprehensive filmic analysis of 1940–44, probing the too easily accepted myths of heroic French resistance.

The film is the work of three men who had worked together in 1967 for the current affairs programming of the French television service (ORTF): the director Marcel Ophuls (the son of the great director Max Ophüls), and the producers André Harris and Alain de Sedouy. When their programme was discontinued, the trio continued to work independently, shooting on 16mm and designing their work for television. ORTF refused Le Chagrin et la pitié, however, acting in a quite ingenious manner to avoid charges of censorship. Since the film had been produced independently, it would have to be viewed before it could be bought for French showing, and ORTF simply refused to set up a viewing session, even after the film had received widespread praise. Le Chagrin et la pitié, a work designed for an audience of millions, received its first showing in a tiny art cinema on the Left Bank, but its power and originality made it one of the most controversial films of the year.

Le Chagrin et la pitié takes as its focal point the town of Clermont-Ferrand, chosen because it was both located close to Vichy and to the center of French resistance in the Auvergne. Ophuls's method was to base his investigation on a combination of interview material shot in the late 1960s with newsreel material from the 1940s. The particular situation of Clermont-Ferrand, initially part of the "free zone" and not occupied by the Wehrmacht until 1942, allows the twin themes of French response to Henri Pétain's policies and reaction to German occupation to be separated out. While the central focus is Clermont-Ferrand, Ophuls has also included statements by leading political figures of the period, such as Pierre Mendès-France and Anthony Eden, who put the local developments into a wider context.

The strength of the film however, lies in its human detail, in the interviews which relate directly to the situation in Clermont-Ferrand. Those interviewed cover the whole spectrum from aristocrats to peasants, from active collaborators and German occupying troops to resistance members and ordinary people who claim to be without politics. To set against the newsreels and the proven statistics are some startling testimonies, such as the champion cyclist who does not remember ever seeing any Germans in the town, the German excommanding officer, wearing his wartime service medals at his daughter's wedding, who denies any army involvement in the imprisonment and deportation of Jews, and a peasant who still has as his neighbor the man who denounced him for his resistance activities. All the easy half-truths are demolished: the crowds cheering De Gaulle's entry into the town in 1944 are indistinguishable from those who had earlier saluted Marshal Pétain.

Throughout the four hours of Le Chagrin et la pitié Ophuls's skilful selection from some 60 hours of interview material and apposite juxtapositions make a fascinating presentation of the facts beneath the legend, the still current evasions of self-evident truth, of the sorrow and the pity of the Occupation.

—Roy Armes

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