Demystifying t he Past: The Evolution of Jewish Memory in French Film Even sixty years after the conclusion of World War II, France continues to grapple with the guilt surrounding its participation in Nazi Germany's "Final Solution," that is, the e xtermination of European Jewry. This article investigates the role of film at different stages of By analyzing over fifty years of French cinematic production s concerning the Holocaust this research provides a survey of the progressive evolution of a Jewish identity in postwar French society. FILM: A GAUGE OF MOR AL AND POLITICAL ACCOUNTABILITY In his controversial 1955 documentary Nuit et Brouillard, director Alain Resnais constructs a provocative work that calls for defiance in the face of receding memories of World War II. More than half a century has nch society is still Alors, qui est responsable As historian Henry Rousso notes in his seminal work Le Syndrome de Vichy public and private discourse after decades of silence. Due to the level of esteem accorded to the cinema in France, the particular p ast is remembered. 1 French filmmakers, from Jean Renoir (1930s) to Marcel Ophls (1970 80s), have served as political and social barometers of their time, producing re readings of history that are permeated by the present vcu In France, fi lm serves as an lieu de mmoire into the recesses of memory can be performed. 2 Resnais's unique approach in dealing with the issues of memory inhibition and th e reconstruction of the past inspired me to examine the shifts in French Jewish cultural memory through an examination of landmark cinematic pieces. To track the shifts in cultural memory, my analysis is divided into three phases: post war repression of th e 1950s, the cultural reawakening of the 1970s, and modern Because the medium of film has served as a vehicle for French memory debates and has a more far reaching effect than other types of art, my a nalysis will focus on one representative cinematic work per memory phase. The central works in each memory phase are Alain Resnais's Nuit et Brouillard (1955), Louis Malle's Lacombe Lucien Plus tard tu comprendras (2008) because th ese films advance particular images and narratives that embody the characteristics of the different stages of the evolution of Jewish memory in France. THE DREYFUSARD DEBAT E: HISTORICAL ANTI SEMITISM IN FRANCE At the birth of French cinema a t the turn of the 20 th century, whimsical cinematographer Georges Mlis crafted the avant (1899) marked an anomalous departure into the realm of political docu fiction 3 The film was shot at the same time as the polemical affaire surrounding the treason allegedly committed by Captain Alfred Dreyfus, French Jew of Alsatian extraction, divided the nation into Dreyfusards and Antidreyfusards. 4 The fact that the first Jewish character to be depicted in a film was one tied to national betrayal and crime undoubtedly contributed to an anti Semitic cinematic Jewish figure that would dominate mainstream movies for th e next three decades following the conclusion of the affaire In his famous address to then President Flix Faure, realist writer mile aux sales juifs dirty 5 In effect, Zola explicitly attacks the engines of nationalist propaganda and the perpetrators of right wing extremist discourse, revealing to the anachronistic reader the degree to which anti Semitism had cleft French society. novel, David Golder which was subsequently turned into a f ilm by Julien Duvivier in 1930. The protagonist, Golder, embodies several of the negative physical and moral traits assigne d to Jews during this era 6 For example, he is an apatride not belong to the French national community) ; a shrewd businessman obsessed with gold, money and power ; and finally a secular Jew that is ashamed not only of his own Jewishness, but o f Jewishness in others as well. The
ANA M G ONZLEZ portrait of the inassimil able, socially excluded Jew was echoed throughout the cinematic production of the 1930s Lvy et Cie (1931), Les Galeries Lvy et Cie (1932), Mose et Salomon parfumeurs La petite Lise (1930), (1936). 7 It is interesting to note that although orthodox rabbis made up a certain Jewish characters were typecast as non religious businessmen whose only relation to Judaism was their link to money and their physical appearance (that is, exaggerated noses, round framed glasses, greasy hair and moustaches, etc.) 8 In hi cinematic anti than forwardly expressed. 9 in the dialogue that a character is Jewish or has Jewish ancestors; one does not allude to Hebraic religious practices nor does on 10 It was not until after the Shoah that Jewish signifiers would include religious connotations. None of the 1930s films showed Jews within thei r community, engaging in religious and cultural practices such as bar/bat mitzvahs, marriages, or circumcisions 11 On the contrary, the majority of the cinematic works depicted the Jew as a capitalizing banker, financer, tailor, jeweler and so forth, thus s crutinizing their oftentimes profiteering relationships with non Jewish French citizens 12 Evidently, this negative configuration did not do much to enhance the average arguably have led to their complicity persecution of Jews during Occupation. Following the war, General Charles De Gaulle une certaine ide de la France Napoleonic glory baroqu e grandeur imperialist xenophobia, etc.) by centering collective identity and national pride on Rsistancialisme, or the myth of a united France that fought the Nazis 13 Any trace of a culpable past was concealed behind the national tapestry and an y challenge raised to the gran d image of France was censored. Reflecting the mental paralysis of the traumatized dports postwar cinema dealt with the Occupation in political terms while remaini 14 With Night and Fog (1955) a nd Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), Resnais confronts le devoir de mmoire underscoring the futility of active forgetting by showing how the past permeates the present. Although Night and Fog directly tackles issues of postwar memory inh ibition, Resnais focuses primarily on questions of politics while remaining mute on Jewish perse cution. The spectator sees the S tars of David h a list of other prisoners. 15 However, the glaring omission of the specificity of the Jewish experience, for reasons of incommunicability or ( active forgetting ), dominates as the emblematic characteristic of the political and social discourse of the postwar era. 16 I n addition to cinema, the literary works of Patrick Modiano ( ), Marguerite Duras ( La Douleur, Hiroshima mon amour ) and Jean Cayrol ( Pomes de la Nuit et Brouillard) also present a haunted meditation of the past and the dilemma surrounding l the inexpressible. During the 1945 46 Nuremberg Trials, Hannah Arendt observed that 17 That is to say, the legal apparatus was not equipped to deal with the magnitude and scope of the unprece dented Nazi atrocities, thus rendering any existing punishment gravely inadequate. Similarly, it seems that the concentration camp language and communication, resulting in the literal/figurative use of po ints de suspension option 18 It was not until after les vnements ( i.e. student demonstrations) that the second generation would finally whirled away the dust that society had permitted to sett le over the horrors of the past 19 Struggling to fill the ation of filmmakers began tackling taboo subjects, such as the voluntary deportation of foreign and French Jews, that had remained a point aveugle of the national past for decades after the war. Characterized by the enqute pousse of directors like Marcel of the seventies and eighties embodied the Jewish cultural reawakening and represented the belated indictment of French complicity vis vis the extermination of European Jewry 20 The militant, unyielding approach of filmmakers during this period set the tone for the retour sur soi 21 The mirror held up by the Fourth Republic reflected an idyllic image of a united French monolith, a false veneer that would be peeled back to show the traumatic fissures left by la guerre f ranco franaise the name given to the immediate postwar social conflicts) 22 Directors like Franois Truffaut ( Le Dernier Mtro 1980), Joseph Losey ( M. Klein 1976), Louis Malle ( Lacombe Lucien 1974), and Marcel Ophls ( Le Chagrin et la Piti 1971) reevaluated the Resistance which at the time had been cinematically neglected 23
EVOLUTION OF JEWISH MEMORY IN FRENCH FIL M (imitation of reality or la mode rtro ) or via documentary (framing reality through testimony and buttressing archival footage with the oral com munication of the experiences) 24 The two cinematic forms raise different social, political, and historical questions, thus leaving it to the spectator to For example, critics of Louis Lacombe Lucien argue tha t the film paints a relativist tableau of collaboration, meaning that into the role of milicien that the line between resistance and collaboration was ambi guously and nonchalantly draw n. 25 However, as Marcel Ophls retorts, fascist agitator and not just any average Lucien would have seamlessly (and remorselessly) waded between the two distant banks of participatory persecution and p ronounced protest. 26 Another facet of this cinematic dichotomy is the fact that documentary, although inherently assuming veracity, is never neutral. From Le chagrin et la piti to Shoah to Htel Terminus it is clear that the authors have a particular age nda and message to transmit to the viewers. The documentaries also provides insight into the urgency and that of French national collaboration with the Nazis and the persecution of not only foreign Je ws but French Jewish citizens. 27 Raised in a secular manner and removed from Judaism, many writers and filmmake rs, such as Alain Finkielkraut and Guy Konopnicki, as victim ildhood. 28 Then, through their memory work and political engagement as adults, they welcomed a renewed cultural Jewish self. The second generation claimed that what defined a Jew was his inherited Jewish blood and heritage, not his religious practice, thus ironically treating Jews as a race as did the Nazis 29 T his newfound emphasis on Jewish education and religious observance, along with the development of a new legal memory of the Shoah, undoubtedly influenced the last and current memory phase. Essentially once the second generation had come to terms with their inherited past, it was time to turn the focus onto the future, or the third generation children who would be the carriers of the memory of injustice and persecution, as well as the keepers of cultur al and religious tradition. struggle with the image of a World War II French dystopia. 30 France lagged more than other countries in coming to terms with its past. In 1945, the Nuremberg Trials indicted the crimes of National Socialism and in 1947 Germany once again faced the atrocities of extermination with the Auschwitz Trials (continued in 1963 65). 31 Likewise, in 1961, Israel tried Adolf it was not until 1994 that the first Frenchman, Paul Touvier, was convicted of crimes against humanity for involvement in the deportation of Jews. 32 Under the direction of notorious Gestapo chief Kla us Barbie, Touvier headed la Milice a paramilitary death squad responsible for roundups/executions of Jews and rsistants 33 The Touvier trial was an aftershock of the seismic 1987 Klaus Barbie trial. As Ophls demonstrates in Htel Termi nus Boucher de Lyon was a televised spectacle, yet it represented the first time French Jewish victims were allowed to give testimony on a national stage. 34 In 1995, fifty six years after the Liberation of France, Jacques Chirac became the first president to acknowledge the culpability of the French government in the persecution of not only foreign Jews, but of its own Jewis h citizens. 35 The age of demystification began anew after these monumental trials and works like Un hros trs discret (Jacques Audiard) and Delicatessen (Jean Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro), which challenged accepted historical narratives and traditional metho ds of cinem atic representation. While some recent films fall prey to the tire larme Spielberg effect ( La Rafle 2010 and 2009), others like Plus tard tu comprendras (Amos Gita, 2008) explore the intergenerational struggles link ed to working through the past. In Le Chagrin et La Piti former Pierre Mends France states tendencies or demagogies are nourished and whipped up, we have to t alk to them about it, maybe more than we did one or two generatio 36 Amidst the growing popularity of extreme right wing blogs and Clinesque writers like Michel Houellebecq, his message is as re levant today as it was in 1969. 37 As the light of the la st survivors of the Shoah extinguishes, the question is raised as to how French Jewish cultural heritage is to be transmitted to current/future generations. How will the story and the History be told ? One thing is certain, however: films will continue to play a pivotal role i n the way the French national and personal past is remembered A CKNOWLEDGMENTS Thanks are due to Dr. Sylvie Blum Reid, Dr. Eric Kligerman, and the staff at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for their invaluable assistance t o me in researching this topic for my thesis.
ANA M G ONZLEZ Audiard, Jacques. Un hros trs discret Aliclo. 1996. Film. Berri, Claude. Le vieil homme et l'enfant Irvington, N.Y.: Criterion Collection, 2007. The French Review 51, No. 5 (Apr., 1978): 674 679. Les Juifs de France : Modernit et identit. Vingtime Sicle. No. 66, (Apr Jun., 2000): 91 106. Dalio, Marcel. Mes Annes Folles Paris: J. C. Latts, 1976. before Nuremberg Yale Law Journal (Nov 1995): 320 322. Duras, Marguerite. La Douleur Paris: P.O.L, 1985. Finkiel, Emmanuel, Shulamit Adar, Liliane Rovre, and Esther Gorintin. Voyages New York, NY: New Yorker Video, 2005. Finkielkraut, Alain. Le juif imaginaire. Paris : Editions du Seuil. 1994. G illery, Francis. La vie aprs la Shoah France : Mmorial de la Shoah, 2009. Greene, Naomi. L andscapes of L oss: T he N ational P ast in P ostwar French C inema Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999. a Radical Politics of New German Critique (1997): 110 117. Insdorf, Annette. Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust. New York: Random House, 1983. Konopnicki, Guy. N Aprs Paris: Editions de la Marti nre, 2003. Lalieu, Olivier. Vingtime Sicle. Revue No. 69, (Jan Mar., 2001): 83 94. Ophuls, Marcel, Andr Harris, Alain de Sdouy, Pierre Mends France, Anthony Eden, Claude Lvy, Denis Rake, et al. Le chagrin et la piti chronique d'une ville franaise sous l'occupation. Harrington Park, N.J.: Milestone Film & Video. 2001. Ophuls, Marcel.Samuel Goldwyn Co. Hotel Terminus: The life and times of Klaus Barbie Troy, Mich: Video Treasures, 1995. Film. Pithon, Rmy. Vingtime Sicle. Revue 99. Resnais, Alain, et Jean Cayrol. Nuit et Brouillard S.l.: Classics Releasing, 1993. Rousso, Henry. The Vichy Syndrome: History and Memory in France since 1944 Trans. Arthur Goldhammer. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991. Sartre, Jean Paul. Rflexions sur la question juive Saint Amand: Gallimard, 1971. Zola, mile La Vrit En Marche: J'accuse Pari s: J.J. Pauvert, 1972. 1 Rousso, Henry. The Vichy Syndrome: History and Memory in France since 1944 Trans. Arthur Goldhammer. ( Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991 ), 149. 2 Greene, Naomi. Landscapes of loss: the national past in postwar French cinema ( Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999 ), 232. 3 Ibid ., 133. 4 Ibid. 5 Zola, mile La Vrit En Marche: J'accuse ( Paris: J.J. Pauvert, 1972 ), 39. 6 Greene, Landscapes of Loss, 11 9. 7 : 88 89. 8 Ibid., 87. 9 Ibid., 92. 10 Ibid., 93. 11 Cohen, Martine. Les Juifs de France : Modernit et identit. Vingtime No. 66, (Apr Jun., 2000), p. 91 95. 12 Ibid., 104 06. 13 Rousso, The Vichy Syndrome 32. 14 The French Review Vol. 51, No. 5 (Apr., 1978) : 674. 15 Re snais, Alain, et Jean Cayrol. Nuit et Brouillard S.l.: Classics Releasing, 1993 16 Greene, Landscapes of Loss, 115. 17 ess Yale Law Journal (Nov 1995) : 320. 18 Lalieu, Olivier. Vingtime Sicle. No. 69, (Jan Mar., 2001) : 85. 19 Insdorf, Annette. Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust. ( New York: Random House, 1983 ), 57. 20 Finkielkraut, Alain. Le juif imaginaire. ( Paris : Editions du Seuil. 1994 ), 84. 21 Ibid. 22 Ibid. 79. 23 Insdorf, Indelible Shadows 119. 24 Ibid. 25 Ibid., 221. 26 Ophuls, Marcel, Andr Harris, Alain de Sdouy, Pierre Mends France, Anthony Eden, Claude Lvy, Denis Rake, et al. Le chagrin et la piti chronique d'une ville franaise sous l'occupation. Harrington Park, N.J.: Milestone Film & Video. 2001 27 Ibid., 28 Finkielkraut, Le juif imaginaire 52. 29 Ibid. 30 Greene, Landscapes of Loss, 43. 31 Rousso, The Vichy Syndrome 228. 32 Ibid. 33 Insdorf, 1983 34 Ophuls, Marcel.Samuel Goldwyn Co. Hotel Terminus: The life and times of Klaus Barbie Troy, Mich: Video Treasures, 1995. Film 35 Gillery, Francis. La vie aprs la Shoah France : Mmorial de la Shoah, 2009 36 Ophuls, Le chagrin 37 Les Juifs de France