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The Sorrow and the Pity (French: Le Chagrin et la Pitié) is a two-part 1969 documentary film by Marcel Ophüls about the collaboration between the Vichy government and Nazi Germany during World War II. The film uses interviews with a German officer, collaborators, and resistance fighters from Clermont-Ferrand. They comment on the nature of and reasons for collaboration, including antisemitism, Anglophobia, fear of Bolsheviks and Soviet invasion, and the desire for power.

The Sorrow and the Pity
A black and white movie poster of a minimalistic newspaper-print eye with a single teardrop falling from it. A tilted swastika is in the pupil slightly off center as if a gleam of light. The text from top to bottom says: Enormous. THE SORROW AND THE PITY has exposed something everybody knew but was afraid to talk about. — Brad Darrach, Harpers Magazine Cinema 5 Presents The Sorrow and The Pity Directed by Marcel Ophuls
Movie poster
FrenchLe Chagrin et la Pitié
Directed byMarcel Ophüls
Produced by
  • Alain de Sedouy
  • André Harris
Written by
  • Marcel Ophüls
  • André Harris
Release date
  • 18 September 1969 (1969-September-18)
Running time
251 min.
CountryFrance, West Germany, Switzerland
LanguageFrench, German, and English[1][2]



Part one of the film, The Collapse, has an extended interview with Pierre Mendès France. He was jailed by the Vichy government on trumped-up charges of desertion after leaving France on the SS Le Masilia, together with Pierre Viénot [fr], Jean Zay, and Alex Wiltzer [fr], in an attempt to rejoin his military unit which had moved to Morocco. But Mendès France escaped from jail to join Charles de Gaulle's forces operating out of England, and later served as prime minister of France for eight months from 1954 to 1955.

Bernard Natan on trial in France for fraud circa 1936; Screenshot from the documentary The Sorrow and the Pity (part 1).

Part two, The Choice, revolves around Christian de la Mazière, who is something of a counterpoint to Mendès France. Whereas Mendès France was a French Jewish political figure who joined the Resistance, de la Mazière, an aristocrat who embraced Fascism, was one of 7,000 French youth to fight on the Eastern Front wearing German uniforms.

The film shows the French people's response to occupation as heroic, pitiable, and monstrous—sometimes all at once. The postwar humiliation of the women who served (or were married to) German soldiers perhaps gives the strongest mix of all three. Maurice Chevalier's "Sweepin' the Clouds Away" is the theme song of the film. He was a popular entertainer with the German occupation force.



Initially commissioned by French government-owned television to create a two part made for TV documentary,[3][when?] the film was banned after Olphus submitted it to the studio that hired him.[4]


The film "had its world premiere in Germany."[3][when?] This film was first shown on French television in 1981[4] after being banned[5] from that medium for years. In 1969, after the director submitted the film to the studio that hired him, the network head "told a government committee that the film 'destroys myths that the people of France still need'".[4] Frederick Busi suggests that this was because of how uncomfortable it is to face the reality of collaborationism. Writing of French conservative establishment groups' reactions to the film, "They, too, preferred that little be said about their role, and in some ways this reluctance is more significant than that of the extremists, since they represent so large a segment of society and mainly dominate contemporary politics."[3] It is frequently assumed that the reason was French reluctance to admit the facts of French history. While this may have been a factor, the principal mover in the decision was Simone Veil, a Jewish inmate of Auschwitz who became a minister and the first president of the European Parliament, on the grounds that the film presented too one-sided a view.[6][clarification needed]


The candid approach of the 1971 documentary The Sorrow and the Pity shone a spotlight on antisemitism in France and disputed the official Resistance ideals.[7][8] Time magazine gave a positive review of the film, and wrote that Marcel Ophüls "tries to puncture the bourgeois myth—or protectively askew memory—that allows France generally to act as if hardly any Frenchmen collaborated with the Germans."[9] In France, after its release, communists, socialists, and "independent groups" treated the film favorably, however, the far right disapproved on account of the director's background.[3] Some[who?] denounced the film as unpatriotic.[4] The film has also been criticized for being too selective and that the director was "too close to the events portrayed to provide an objective study of the period."[3][10] In 2001, Richard Trank, a documentarian of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, described it as "a film about morality that explores the role of ordinary people".[5] It was nominated for an Academy Award in 1971 for Best Documentary Feature.[11][12][13] It won "the Grand Prize of the Dinard Festival [fr]".[3][when?] It received "a special award by the National Society of Film Critics, which called it 'a film of extraordinary public interest and distinction.'"[5][when?]

In popular cultureEdit


  1. ^ a b "The Sorrow and the Pity (1969)". British Film Institute. Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  2. ^ "The Sorrow and the Pity (1971)". All Movie. Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Busi, Frederick (Winter 1973). "Marcel Ophuls and the Sorrow and the Pity". The Massachusetts Review. 14 (1): 177–186. JSTOR 25088330.
  4. ^ a b c d Jeffries, Stuart (January 22, 2004). "A nation shamed: Why does France keep making films that glorify the Resistance and gloss over the truth about collaboration?". The Guardian. Retrieved November 4, 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d Liebenson, Donald (January 19, 2001). "A Look at 'The Sorrow and the Pity' of France in World War II". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  6. ^ Simone Veil, Mémoires, Paris, 2008
  7. ^ Weitz, Margaret Collins (1995). Sisters in the Resistance – How Women Fought to Free France 1940–1945. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-471-19698-3.
  8. ^ Greene, Naomi (1999). Landscapes of Loss: The National Past in Postwar French Cinema. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. pp. 69–73. ISBN 978-0-691-00475-4.
  9. ^ "TIME magazine: Truth and Consequences". Time. 1972-03-27. Retrieved 2012-08-27.
  10. ^ Hoffman, Stanley (1972). "On 'The Sorrow and the Pity'". Commentary. Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  11. ^ "Le Chagrin et la Pitie - Cast, Crew, Director and Awards". New York Times. n.d. Archived from the original on May 19, 2009. Retrieved November 12, 2008. Win Special Award - 1972 New York Film Critics Circle Best Foreign Film - 1972 National Board of Review Nomination Best Documentary Feature - 1971 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
  12. ^ "The Official Acadademy Awards® Database". Archived from the original on 2013-04-15. Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  13. ^ a b Petrakis, John (July 14, 2000). "'Sorrow' a Complete Look at how the French Dealt with the Nazis". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  14. ^ "Annie Hall Film Script". Retrieved 2015-01-27.
  15. ^ Turan, Kenneth (July 7, 2000). "'Sorrow and the Pity' Still Potent, Powerful". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 4, 2018.

External linksEdit