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The 1940 Saumur

a piquant vintage
  (+11, -2)(+11, -2)
(+11, -2)
  [vote for,

I'd like to make a war film.

Oh, wait. That's not a very original idea, is it?

Well, I'd like to make a film dramatising a particular event that took place during the fall of France, partly because it's a good story, and partly because it makes a good delivery system for a particular cultural payload I want to deliver.

The story is that, the day after the official surrender of France, the cadets of the Cavalry School at Saumur sur la Loire decided that they would have a go anyway.

Luckily, the commander of the German troops facing them was an old-fashioned gentleman who (if I've remembered this correctly) ended the engagement (after two days' fighting) by invoking the otherwise obsolete convention of "honours of war".

This meant that the boys agreed to stop fighting on that occasion but, instead of surrendering themselves as prisoners of war, would be allowed to go home.

This is important, because it allowed a sort of moral redemption to both sides - to the French, because in this case they were resisting the Nazis against impossible odds, and to the Germans, because in this case they did not behave like Nazis (even though some of their colleagues at the same time were, for example, shooting POWs elsewhere).

And it is important because this mutual moral redemption was not achieved through any sudden face-to-face recognition of common humanity, but rather through what you might call the channeling of collective cultural memories. It was about transcending and overcoming the impulses of the time (cowardice on one side, brutality on the other) by reference to tradition.

The problem I'm trying to solve here is that war films usually seem to be made either from a left wing or a right wing perspective, and they're both wrong.

The right wing perspective is wrong because it denies the moral difficulty of war; "those guys are the baddies, so we can kill them - what's the problem?"

The left wing perspective is wrong because it always seems to reduce the moral difficulty to the idea that wars are always wrong and stupid, and if only we could get away from our institutions and traditions, and instead respond more directly to our feelings, then there would be no wars.

This story seems to offer the opportunity to contradict both those views.

I would want to include in this film some wives of German officers, and some mothers of French cadets, not so as to do the obvious tear-jerky things, but so as to establish contrasts. I would show the wives as being more in tune with the spirit of vengeful triumphalism than their strait-laced husbands, and the mothers as being more in tune with the spirit of panicky sauve-qui-peut than their starry-eyed sons.

The story would then be a vindication of not-being-in-tune.

I see two main practical difficulties.

One is that no-one would go to see it (it would, of course, be filmed in French and German, and if anyone demanded subtitles I would supply them reluctantly, possibly in Swahili).

The other is that cinema, with its short time-span and its propensity for gigantic close-ups of individual human faces, might be the wrong medium for the point that I'm trying to make.

pertinax, Oct 12 2009

Wikipedia: Battle of Saumur (1940) http://en.wikipedia...f_Saumur_%281940%29
[jutta, Oct 12 2009]

Paris se libere http://news.bbc.co....pondent/7942086.stm
[coprocephalous, Oct 19 2009]


       You might as well cast Schwarzenegger as General Feldt. He'll be available before long.
ldischler, Oct 12 2009

       Taken in isolation this risks presenting the event as heroic and noble. Saving Private Ryan did a good job with this concept when the Americans freed that German soldier who then showed up again later, again a combatant.   

       Probably the thing to do if you want a movie is to make it a science fiction since then you are not tethered to historical events. I am reminded of the Star Trek episode where war was waged by computer and people calculated o be casualties reported to disintegration chambers - sanitizing the war allowed it to continue for generations.   

       Or make it a graphic novel if you want to be historically accurate. Contemporaneous events more typical of this war could be occuring as a counterpoint.
bungston, Oct 12 2009

       You will face a major credibility problem with the movie-going public, who will never believe a film that portrays the french as anything other than cheese-munching surrender monkeys running like rabbits .......
8th of 7, Oct 12 2009

       I've not seen "Inglourious Basterds" yet, but wonder whether it might be somehow relevant here.
zen_tom, Oct 13 2009

       [bigsleep], one of the things responsible for war is overpopulation. Remember that one of the excuses that Hitler gave, for German territorial expansion, was a need for "lebensraum"--living space. Note Hitler also pushed for all the women in Germany to breed breed breed more followers, duh. Well, Europe was basically already full enough; the obvious way for one group to acquire extra living space was by taking it away from someone else: war, that is. Religions have been doing the same thing for millenia, even before the invasion of Canaan by the Hebrews. "Be fruitful and multiply" appears to be a command to make more warriors, not a command that promotes long-term peace.   

       From the preceding we might learn that anyone pushing for more people to be born is basically fomenting war-in-the-long-run, whether they know it or not.
Vernon, Oct 13 2009

       Has anyone seen / read the Boy in the Striped Pajamas?
RayfordSteele, Oct 13 2009

       Sounds like another 'xmas in the trenches'-kind of story; Some of those have been filmified.   

       Movies cannot be made right- or left wing (very low power of differentiation here, by the way; Right and Left are not even the same in different countries, let alone along a near-orthogonal dimension - how would you sort a communist-warmongering piece?).   

       The impact is always in the eye of the beholder -> consider 'Starship Troopers' : some consider it a militaristic sleaze-piece, i think it to be the best anti-war movie ever made.
loonquawl, Oct 13 2009

       //read the Boy in the Striped Pajamas?// Yes, quite brilliant.
zen_tom, Oct 13 2009

       I didn't read the Boy in the Striped Pajamas but the movie made my wife cry.   

       I would watch a movie based on 1940 Saumur cadets but would unfortunately be one of the people needing subtitles.   

       I took Starship Troopers to be one of the worst book to film adaptations ever.
kaz, Oct 13 2009

       ST (the book) is classic '50s SF (the genre was mostly defined by Heinlein anyways); it probably would've made a great movie at the time, but the story itself was originally rejected for publication as being too controversial.
FlyingToaster, Oct 13 2009

       [21 Quest], sorry if I didn't state this clearly enough, but showing both sides is a secondary consideration in this case. The primary consideration is to affirm what [bigsleep] calls "cultural inertia", and what Australian aboriginals call Dreaming. What makes the two-sidedness important is that, if you did it from only one side, it would look like a naif re-statement of jingoism.   

       [bungston]; //this risks presenting the event as heroic and noble// - I don't see that as a problem, in this case.   

       [zen_tom], I've not seen "Inglourious Basterds" yet either, but I suspect that it's almost the exact opposite of what I had in mind.   

       [loonquawl], you're right about right and left; by 'left', I mean specifically the idea of 'left' which has developed in the western world since the end of the Second World War and which is quite different from, for example, nineteenth century Methodist trade-unionism or George Bernard Shaw... but I felt that the idea was already wordy enough without explaining that.   

       [2 fries], I did read "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas", but it didn't make me cry; on the contrary, I felt it was annoyingly contrived - unlike, say, Schindler's List, which almost did.   

       In fact, you could probably take "Inglourious Basterds" and "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" as prime examples of the two contrasting wrongnesses which I have characterised as right and left, respectively.
pertinax, Oct 19 2009

       On a separate, tangential point, [21 Quest], are you sure the "shove 'em in a church and burn it down" atrocity shown in that Gibson film really happened? I'm aware of Colonel Tarleton's men killing surrendered enemies, and I'm aware of scalp-buying, but I thought that church-burning one was a Hollywood invention. If it was real, could you link to some primary source material on the subject (IMDB doesn't count ;) )?
pertinax, Oct 19 2009

       //"shove 'em in a church and burn it down" atrocity //
Maybe they confused it with Oradour sur Glane?
coprocephalous, Oct 19 2009

       I watched "Downfall" the other day, and found that absolutely captivating.
zen_tom, Oct 19 2009

       //I watched "Downfall"//
Bruno Ganz was very good.
AbsintheWithoutLeave, Oct 19 2009

       // the worst book to film adaptations ever //   

       We're with you on that one. They didn't even have the PowerSuits .....
8th of 7, Oct 19 2009

       I know!!
kaz, Oct 19 2009

       I read the book when I was 11'ish, so I didn't notice the lack of power-suits when I saw the movie, but now that you mention it... :/
FlyingToaster, Oct 19 2009

       // I didn't notice the lack of power-suits //   

       Shame on you ...
8th of 7, Oct 19 2009

       This is a wonderful idea. [+] It would take a director of genius, though, to make a movie that people couldn't manage to see through a left- or right-wing filter.   

       Reminds me of Ursula LeGuin's conclusion that she'd failed, in _Left Hand of Darkness_ because she hadn't prevented the reader from mentally assigning a gender to Estraven.
mouseposture, Jan 14 2010

       // It also doesn't show the Nazis in a very good light//
I missed that gem first time around - thanks for the churn.
coprocephalous, Jan 14 2010

       You may be right, that cinema might be the wrong medium for this - maybe this idea would make a better board game or wargaming scenario? Some way of awarding points for 'humanity' or 'karma' would be needed.
hippo, Jan 14 2010

       Well, I think the problem with the medium of gaming is that, if you "game" a system of ideas, so as to maximise points, that's very different from believing in and inhabiting those ideas. Although a meta-narrative like "chivalry" (for want of a better word) must be objective to the extent that it transcends the moment, it must also be subjective to the extent that people must be able to view the world from inside it, looking out, and the board-gaming perspective would encourage an overly-objective, outside-looking-in view.
pertinax, Jan 16 2010

       Without comment, [+]. I would go see this movie.
batou, Jan 20 2010


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