An in-depth exploration of the various reactions by the French people to the Vichy government's acceptance of Nazi invasion.


Marcel Ophüls (as Marcel Ophuls)
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 6 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Helmut Tausend Helmut Tausend ... Self, former Wehrmacht Captain (as Helmuth Tausend)
Marcel Verdier Marcel Verdier ... Self, pharmacist in Clermont-Ferrand
Alexis Grave Alexis Grave ... Self, Yronde farmer
Louis Grave Louis Grave ... Self, Yronde farmer, Résistance Fighter
Pierre Mendès-France ... Self, Former Prime Minister Of France
Emile Coulaudon Emile Coulaudon ... Self, Former Head of the Auvergne Maquis
Walter Warlimont Walter Warlimont ... Self, General, adjutant to the Wehrmacht Supreme Command
Georg Stumme Georg Stumme ... Self, general in the Wehrmacht (archive footage) (as General Stummel)
Tausend Tausend ... Self (as Frau Tausend)
Anthony Eden ... Self, Winston Churchill's foreign Secretary 1940-1945
Sepp Dietrich Sepp Dietrich ... Self, SS commander (archive footage) (as Zepp Dietrich)
Roger Tounze Roger Tounze ... Self, journalist for La Montage newspaper based in Clermont-Ferrand
Adolf Hitler ... Self (archive footage)
Albert Speer ... Self (archive footage)
Mr. Leiris Mr. Leiris ... self, Former Mayor Of Combronde (as Monsieur Leiris)


From 1940 to 1944, France's Vichy government collaborated with Nazi Germany. Marcel Ophüls mixes archival footage with 1969 interviews of a German officer and of collaborators and resistance fighters from Clermont-Ferrand. They comment on the nature, details and reasons for the collaboration, from anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and fear of Bolsheviks, to simple caution. Part one, "The Collapse," includes an extended interview with Pierre Mendès-France, jailed for anti-Vichy action and later France's Prime Minister. At the heart of part two, "The Choice," is an interview with Christian de la Mazière, one of 7,000 French youth to fight on the eastern front wearing German uniforms. Written by <>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


The Most Important Film of Its Kind Ever Made See more »


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On Rotten Tomatoes this film has a 100% rating based on 27 critic reviews. See more »


Self - Former Prime Minister of France: It's not surprising that, at first, such poison won over many new converts at first. Little by little, people began to realize it was propaganda, and to see that the government was practicing a policy, which they themselves called collaboration with the enemy. Slowly but surely, people began to open their eyes, and change their minds. But this propaganda still won over many new converts.
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Referenced in The Surrogate (1984) See more »


Ça Fait d'Excellents Français
Music by Georges Van Parys
Lyrics by Jean Boyer
Performed by Maurice Chevalier
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User Reviews

Still So Relevant Today
1 June 2004 | by KrustallosSee all my reviews

I've just seen this at the National Film Theatre.

I concur with most of the comments from the other users. Certainly Ophuls' directorial hand is evident throughout, the editing, cutting, juxtaposition, reaction shots etc are all part of the construction of his argument, although his interviewees are obviously allowed to account for themselves at some length.

What I found most surprising was the amount of humour in the film. Because of Woody Allen's use of it in "Annie Hall" I thought it would be gruelling, but there were a number of laugh out loud moments, starting with the resistance leader whose main stated reason for fighting the Germans was that they were monopolising the best meat.

Emmanuel d'Astier de la Vigerie was also a total star. His comment about the sociological make-up of the Resistance - essentially misfits and malcontents, people with nothing to lose - was very telling. A number of other interviewees made similar points - the main collaborators were the bourgeoisie - the resistance was mainly based on workers, peasants, communists, youth and weirdos of various sorts. Compare that with the sitation in the '60s when the film was made and with the situation now in the western democracies.

Anthony Eden was another major surprise. The popular image of him now is of a buffoon, the man who screwed up Suez, but in the extended interview here he displays immense charisma, intelligence and humanity. And if they make a film of his life Jeremy Irons is a shoo-in for the role.

The Nazis, meanwhile, are clearly cut from the same cloth as the neo-fascists presently enjoying something of a resurgence in most of Europe. All the same arguments made in exactly the same way by the same sort of people. This (plus the smugness of the former Wehrmacht officer still wearing his medals) was probably the most chilling thing about the film.

The final obvious resonance is with Iraq. From the German soldiers baffled and outraged by the fact that some French were trying to kill them, to the French establishment referring to the Resistance as terrorists, (yes that was the exact word they used), to the initial acceptance of the Occupation turning to hatred as reprisals against the Resistance grew, many testimonies throw a radically new light on the present situation. To draw direct parallels would be a mistake - even the Gaullists were not as reactionary as Zarqawi or Muqtada al Sadr - but nonetheless there is a lot to learn from then about now, and about the difference between how events are perceived at the time and by History.

Another user comment complains about the amount of politics in the film. It's true that some knowledge is presupposed and the film would obviously mean more to those who lived through those times. However Ophuls has said that one of his main motivations was to show that the idea that you can divorce politics from everyday life is exactly what made collaboration possible.

These are just a few of the thoughts provoked by the film, which holds many more insights and surprises and I am sure repays as many viewings as Alvy Singer gave it. It's perhaps not as shocking or affecting as "Shoah" (on which it's surely the strongest influence) but then it's a different story. It shows us the best of humanity as well as the worst and neither are always where you might expect to find them.

Incidentally, it looks like the reportedly poor quality of the DVD may be down to the original film stock rather than the transfer.

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Release Date:

25 March 1972 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Sorrow and the Pity See more »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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