Made for French television, Marcel Ophüls' four-hour-plus documentary explores the average French citizen's memories of the Nazi occupation. Just how large and effective was the fabled resistance movement? Is cooperation the same thing as collaboration? And how did one's up-close-and-personal experiences with the occupation troops impact one's postwar life? These questions are probingly posed (but not all are answered) by Ophüls, who also acts as offscreen interviewer. The first half of the film is a mosaic of sights and sounds from the years 1940-1944: Maurice Chevalier singing for the German troops, clips of propagandistic newsreels, appalling vignettes from the scurrilous anti-Semitic film drama Jew Suss (1940), and the like. Ophüls' interpretation of history as the "process of recollection, in things like choice, selective memory, rationalization" is fully illustrated in the film's long second half, which is devoted almost entirely to interviews, in which the subjects display emotions ranging from mild embarrassment to abrupt rage.
by Hal Erickson synopsis