The politics of French and German cinema between the onset of the Great Depression and the end of World War II is far from a new topic of study. However, scholars have typically focused on one country or the other, rather than comparing the two, and prioritized high-profile directors (for example, Jean Renoir, Jean-Paul Le Chanois, Leni Riefenstahl, and Veit Harlan) whose work benefited from direct party sponsorship and served a clearly propagandistic function. Reflecting the evolution of cultural history and film studies over the past decade, this collection of essays seeks to enrich the traditional approach in three ways. The first is by expanding the definition of politics beyond official party or state discourse to include power-related issues such as representation of gender and gender roles; access to material resources including funding and technology; relationships between film creators and industry or government officials; and competition between commercial and ideological priorities in film production, censorship, and distribution.
The Politics of Marcel Pagnol's La Fille du puisatier
From late 1940 through mid-1942 Marcel Pagnol accommodated to varying degrees the demands of the Vichy regime and the German occupiers in order to ensure the survival of his film production business. In so doing, he placed himself in the ambiguous grey zone of thought and action that stretched between the poles of proactive collaboration and proactive resistance. Pagnol's wartime activities, especially the history of his film La Fille du puisatier (The Well-Digger's Daughter, 1940), offer insight into how material interest, ideology, and necessity shaped French industrialists' reactions to the Occupation. Pagnol's itinerary also reveals the compromise and conflict that often lay below the surface of Franco-German politics, while highlighting the importance that both regimes attached to cinema as a tool of economics, cultural policy, and propaganda.
In a 1989 article published by Annales under the title “Le monde comme représentation,”1 Roger Chartier articulated a conceptual framework for bridging the gap that had traditionally separated the history of mentalities from social and political history. While the former field—pioneered by Georges Duby, Robert Mandrou, and Philippe Ariès in the 1960s—had legitimized the study of collective beliefs, anxieties, and desires as historical phenomena, the latter remained largely devoted to more concrete, easily quantifiable factors such as structures, institutions, and material culture. Drawing on the anthropological and psychoanalytical premises that had informed the work of Michel Foucault, Louis Marin, and Michel de Certeau, among others, Chartier emphasized the performative dimension of individual and collective representations in order to argue that they should be understood not only as evidence registering the exercise of social and political power, but as underlying catalysts of change in their own right. Like habitus, Pierre Bourdieu’s complex model of social causality and evolution, Chartier framed representation as a symbiotic “structuring structure” that deserved to sit at the heart of historical inquiry.
Historiography, Memory, and the Evolution of Le Silence de la mer, 1942-2012
Among the best-selling French literary works of the twentieth century, Vercors' novella has enjoyed an exceptionally rich afterlife thanks to numerous print editions as well as several influential stage and screen adaptations: Jean-Pierre Melville's 1947 feature film, Jean Mercure's 1949 play, Vercors' own 1978 theatrical rendering, and a 2004 television movie written by Anne Giafferi and directed by Pierre Boutron. Taking a comparative approach that weighs the aesthetic and ideological priorities of these authors and directors alongside shifts in historiography and French political culture, this article traces the evolution of Le Silence de la mer as a contested site of national memory and a means of negotiating the ethically-charged concepts of collaboration and resistance.