1941 in a small town in Nazi occupied France. Against the will of its elderly male and his adult niece residents, the Nazis commandeer a house for one of their officers, Lt. Werner von ...
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1941 in a small town in Nazi occupied France. Against the will of its elderly male and his adult niece residents, the Nazis commandeer a house for one of their officers, Lt. Werner von Ebrennac, to live in for as long as he is in the area on Nazi business. As a figurative and literal silent protest against the Nazis and the officer, the uncle and niece do whatever is required of them while the officer is in their house, however they do not acknowledge his presence, living largely in silence whenever he is around. The officer treats the housing situation with care, like he is a guest. Although not a nightly occurrence, the officer begins an evening routine with his reluctant hosts: in his civilian clothes, he knocks on the door of the room in which they have convened for the evening, walking in shortly thereafter knowing that no acknowledgment will be made for him to enter, he visits with them for no more than five minutes before he bids them a good evening as he exits. During these ...Written by
Partly because they used natural light whenever possible, and partly because they wished to emphasize, for thematic reasons, contrasts of light and shadow, Melville and his director of photography, Henri Decaë (whose first feature film assignment this was) shot many scenes much darker than was the rule in French cinema at the time. As a result, when the film was sent to be developed, the laboratory alerted Melville to the shadowy scenes, assuming a mistake had been made. See more »
And so, he had left. And so, he submitted, like the others. like all the others of that miserable nation, and I tried to etch into my mind the events of these last six months: Our evenings, his words, his revolt, yet not even he, of all men, had the courage to resist his master's orders.
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"It is a noble thing for a soldier to disobey a criminal order."
The condition the main characters find themselves in seems on one hand absurd and existential, and on the other, to reveal such a timeless and menacing aspect of all war - the desire for one nation to essentially eliminate another. For most of the film, a German officer talks to a Frenchman and his niece about his life, his taste in the arts, and professes his admiration for French culture, all while they sit in stony silence, trapped in their own living room, but passively resisting his overtures to connect with them on a human level. His eyes are eventually opened to his country's plans and what they are really doing though. The novel the film was based on was written in occupied France and published secretly in 1942, which is a marvel on its own to think about.
The film by no means forgives the Nazis (and even includes a Treblinka reference the novel didn't have to emphasize that the Holocaust was known by at least some German officers), but it also shows that decent men exist in any enemy. In this terrible situation, it thus sets up fascinating questions: Should the Frenchman and his daughter engage with this man? Should he attempt to disobey his orders? Or does war simply crush those possibilities out of existence? That scene where the officer sees the monuments in Paris extolling the military triumphs of the past, for leaders and causes which ran their course and faded into oblivion, is brilliant. One sees the courage of the Resistance in these two quiet people in their home, the appeal to humanity under extraordinary circumstances, and the cruelty and senselessness of it all.
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