Marcel Ophuls four-and-a-half hour portrait of the French town of Clermont-Ferrand under German occupation from 1940-44 is one of the greatest documentaries ever made, as important as Claude Lanzmann's Shoah in its value not just as a film but as an essential historical record in its own right not least since its interviewees are all long dead.
Describing the fall of France and the rise of the Resistance, with the aid of newly-shot interviews and eye-opening archive footage including newsreels and propaganda films, Ophuls painstakingly crafts a complex, nuanced picture of what really happened in France over this period. He also demolishes numerous self-serving national myths to such an extent that, although he made the film for French television, they wouldn't show it for over a decade.
But, as he demonstrates again and again, the overwhelming majority of French citizens during this period weren't heroes, villains or cowards, but simply ordinary people trying to make the best of an impossible situation. And it's Ophuls portrayal of these people, their hopes, their fears and their appalling moral quandaries, that remains unmatched in film history.
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