The Eye of Vichy (1993)

 “Throwing you into the arms of Communism.”

Claude Chabrol’s documentary, The Eye of Vichy focuses on the French government of Marshal Petain. After the collapse of the French government in 1940, Petain took the lead, and with the war between the Germans and the French essentially over, Petain’s government began collaborating with the Germans. The documentary shows that under the boot of the occupying force, and with Petain’s direction, France became–essentially–an ally of Germany. The documentary consists of newsreel and footage of the times, and gives a strong sense of the level of propaganda coming forth from the Vichy government.

The material is compiled chronologically with very little voiceover. Most of the footage is self-explanatory. Almost immediately following the establishment of the Vichy government, laws came into effect identifying Jews. It’s fascinating to watch the chronology of events and the insidious development of collaboration. Quite frankly it’s rather a shock to realise the degree of cooperation that developed between Petain’s government and the Germans–at first it begins with handing over all German political refugees and registering Jews–to France becoming the greatest supplier of arms and goods to Germany.

Some of the newsreel is simple–reports of allied bombings–with the emphasis on British pilots killing innocent French citizens. But a great deal of the newsreel shows Petain drumming up support for Germany with French volunteers for the Eastern Front. In several scenes, Petain also promotes the shipping of volunteer skilled workers to German factories–the deal was for every 3 skilled workers that were sent to Germany, one POW would be returned to France.

The newsreel regarding the “Jewish Problem” is sickening. While some government footage promises to send 1 million French children to the countryside, Jewish children are rounded up, stuffed on trains and shipped directly to the death camps. One film even shows “The Life of a Jew” and compares them to vermin that need to be eradicated.

The film’s lack of form results in an end product that is less than perfect. In some of the newsreel for example, Petain speaks out against the French resistance, and the execution of 50 French citizens is organised to pressure people to become whistleblowers against the resistance. While similar incidents are revealed in the film, a short explanation of events would really assist in showing the complete sinister machinations behind Petain’s actions. For it is in these actions that Petain is shown as being a fawning German puppet rather than simply being misguided and negotiating the “best deal” that he can for a defeated people.

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Filed under Claude Chabrol, Documentary, France

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