Volume 3, Issue 1, October 2012

A Word from the Editor

I recently mentioned Jacques de Molay’s famous curse on Philip the Fair in my class on the history of Paris and I would have enjoyed showing a scene from Les rois maudits, the highly popular French mini-series (1973, 2005). Both verssions were adapted from Maurice Druon’s medieval saga –which is being reissued in English in 2013 by Harper Voyager, home of George R.R. Martin who touts it as the “original”  Game of Thrones. This might induce the release of subtitled DVDs or On-Demand streaming of the TV versions, but I doubt it. The French produce countless historical dramas (for sure not all masterpieces or even useful), illustrating episodes of French history or adapting literary classics, but they are only available with English subtitles on Air France flights or on TV5 Monde-USA, and, much more rarely, through a Canadian release. TV5 Monde solicits the subtitles for some of these dramas, and hence owns the rights to them, but refuses to issue DVDs. I pleaded with them to send me a screener of Yves Boisset’s L’Affaire Salengro (France 2, 2009)[1] to show in my class on Vichy France but, of course, it never materialized. Those of us who teach French history, therefore, remain prisoners of what gets subtitled and formatted for region 1, although FFFH sometimes strays beyond these limits, hoping to encourage the transfer from old VHS tapes to DVDs or to make subtitled streaming available on these shores.

As we begin another year, we return to the familiar grounds of Vichy France but with a twist. Our “Buzz” covers little-discussed aspects of the period: the fate of African Americans caught in the whirlwind and the activities at the Paris Mosque during the Occupation. Although only a modest success when it opened last year in France, Les Hommes libres offers, to my mind, an excellent depiction of how one joined the Resistance, be it as an Algerian fighting for future freedom or not. The film’s claims about the rector of the Mosque need to be handled with care, however, as Ethan Katz demonstrates. Jeff Jackson explains how Esi Edugyan’s prize-winning novel Half-Blood Blues captures the jazz culture and racial politics of 1930s Germany and the Fall of France, inviting us to learn more about the fate of African Americans imprisoned by the Germans. In this issue’s “Maybe Missed” Michael Vann discusses two feature films dealing with torture in the Algerian War: 1972’s Avoir vingt ans dans les Aurès and the more recent Mon Colonel (2006). Both films, he argues, invite discussion of the ever-troubling question of what brought “ordinary men” to behave like monsters. Charlotte Wells in “Classics for the Classroom” fondly revisits Dorothy Dunnett’s six-part Lymond Chronicles asking what can be retained from these swashbuckling novels to enlighten students on Renaissance politics.

Liana Vardi
University at Buffalo, SUNY

 

[1] The TV drama follows the accusations against Léon Blum’s Minister of the Interior that led to his suicide. You will find a French excerpt at this link.

Table of Contents

The Buzz

Vichy France from the Margins: Les Hommes libres, by Ethan Katz
Vichy France from the Margins: Half-Blood Blues, by Jeff Jackson

Maybe Missed

The Dark Side: French Men Becoming Monsters in Algeria, by Michael G. Vann

Classics in the Classroom

The Lymond Chronicles, by Charlotte Wells

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