Volume 8, Issue 1, October 2017

A Word from the Editor

Welcome to the eighth year of Fiction and Film for French Historians. We hope that you will find something to stimulate your curiosity, to enhance your knowledge of France, and even to use in class.

In this first issue, Greg Monahan offers his analysis of Alberto Serra’s The Death of Louis XIV, a film I saw at the Toronto Film Festival and so disliked I hesitated to have it reviewed. Greg has convinced me that I was wrong and that, despite Jean-Pierre Léaud’s fright wig, the film’s rendition of the last days of the Sun King captures what memoirists and historians have written about this dramatic moment.

In Maybe Missed, Jessica Hammerman situates Yossi Sucary’s recently translated Benghazi-Bergen-Belsen within the history of Libyan Jewry. Sucary, basing himself on family history, recounts the round-up of the Jewish community in 1941-42, focusing on those with British passports who were first taken to an Italian mountain prison before being transported to Auschwitz in May 1944. Those Jews who were kept in Libya suffered heavy casualties from horrific conditions in local labor camps.

Mike Vann reviews Pépé le Moko, Julien Duvuvier’s 1937 classic Orientalist tale of a lovable French crook hiding out in Algiers’ Casbah, which he, of course, comes to dominate. This male fantasy spawned Hollywood remakes and the cartoon character Pepe Le Pew. It also turned Jean Gabin into an international star. But the real subject, Vann argues, is the European construction of Algiers as exotic, unknowable, and dangerous.

Liana Vardi

University at Buffalo, SUNY

 

Table of Contents

The Buzz

Alberto Serra’s [La mort de Louis XIV], by W. Gregory Monahan

Maybe Missed

Libya and the Holocaust: Yossi Sucary’s [Benghazi-Bergen-Belsen], by Jessica R. Hammerman

Classics in the Classroom

“Blame it on the Casbah”: The White Male Imperialist Fantasies of Duvivier’s [Pépé le Moko], by Michael G. Vann

Volume 7, Issue 6, July 2017

A Word from the Editor

This summer issue is one long essay. I realized that I needed to add a review of my own to one of our issues and had been wondering in which direction to take it. Should I describe how I use Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan in my Freshman Seminar? Would I write something about the new brand of fictionalized fait divers? It was the latter that won out, especially since I had read Ivan Jablonka’s prize-winning Laëtitia ou la fin des hommes and could not fathom what made it a novel. I had several works in mind. I had very much enjoyed Philippe Jaeneda’s La petite femelle (Juillard, 2015) about Pauline Dubuisson’s murder of her lover in November 1953. I wrote a whole section on it, but the more I read about the fait divers and literature, the more conventional it came to seem. Emmanuel Carrère would be featured as a matter of course. In the end, I also included Laurent Binet’s HHhH, even though it isn’t French history, because so much of it involves the author’s duty to respect the facts. Historical fiction should be true to what is demonstrable and not be “based on real events.” Meanwhile, authors were inserting themselves into the story of the fait divers directly: present at the trial, speaking with those involved in the case. Were they reliable narrators? Emmanuel Carrère had a personal quest; Ivan Jablonka tells us he wished to approach the fait divers through an historical and sociological lens, yet his book is also an emotional homage to the eighteen-year-old victim of an horrendous murder. As an historian, I felt I needed to take a closer look at this hybrid genre, and figure out where I stand on it.

Liana Vardi

University at Buffalo, SUNY

 

Table of Contents: please note that all three reviews are located within the single link:

Truth or fiction and why it matters. A look at Ivan Jablonka, Emmanuel Carrère, and Laurent Binet, by Liana Vardi 

The Buzz

Laëtitia ou la fin des hommes, by Ivan Jablonka

Maybe Missed

HHhH, by Laurent Binet

Classics in the Classroom

L’Adversaire, by Emmanuel Carrère

Volume 7, Issue 5, April 2017

A Word from the Editor

A common thread in the films reviewed this month is friendship: visceral friendships that call on loyalties, sometimes with dramatic consequences.

In the Buzz, Marco Deyasi reviews Cézanne et moi, a film that explores the relationship between Emile Zola and Paul Cézanne. They met as schoolboys in Aix-en-Provence and moved to Paris to seek fame and fortune. While Zola made it, Cézanne struggled for years to come up with a style that satisfied him. Their friendship disintegrated with the publication of Zola’s The Masterpiece whose portrait of the mad, failed artist borrowed from Cézanne’s life. While the dynamic is well rendered, Deyasi regrets the film’s lack of investment in the creative process itself.

Divines, this month’s Maybe Missed, takes us to today’s banlieue where two black teenagers desperately try to escape poverty. They latch onto the readily available option of selling drugs and get in way over their heads. The angrier of the two young women is offered a chance to escape by following a new boyfriend’s dance troupe on tour. This hope is shattered when she chooses to save her best friend from a vengeful female dope-dealer. Thibault Schilt reminds us that director Houda Benyamina’s reversal of the “standard” gender roles of banlieue cinema is part of a new movement. Her women are tough and violent, and the male gaze is replaced here with an erotically charged female gaze.

While Divines ends with the riots of 2005, the1993 demonstrations against police brutality take place off-stage in Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine. The film begins in their immediate aftermath and follows three friends over the next 24 hours: one white (and Jewish), one black, and one brown (North African). The film has become iconic for its sympathetic approach to the dead-end lives of its multi-racial characters, for its demonstration of the prejudice they encounter, especially in Paris, and for its analysis of the spiral of violence that engulfs them. Michael Gott describes how Kassovitz’s macho version reinforces clichés about the banlieue even as it seeks to challenge them.

Liana Vardi

University at Buffalo, SUNY

 

Table of Contents

The Buzz

The tormented artist and his friend: Danièle Thompson’s [Cézanne et moi], by Marco Deyasi

Maybe Missed

Reversed Gazes and Blended Genres: [Divines] (2016), by Thibault Schilt

Classics in the Classroom

Banlieue Cinema: [La Haine] (1995), by Michael Gott

Volume 7, Issue 4, March 2017

A Word from the Editor

Sex and violence might be the theme for this month’s bulletin.

In the Buzz, Charlotte Wells returns to the world of schlock with a review of the popular BBC series Versailles. Devilish plots and rivalries rend Louis XIV’s court while real historical events nourish a made-up narrative. There is so much sex that the series has received the dubious honour of being called the most pornographic among recent historical capers. In keeping with this theme, Jennifer Davis reviews an actual pornographic classic: Thérèse philosophe. In this libertine eighteenth-century novel, ascribed to Jean-Baptiste Boyer d’Agens, the female narrator connects sex with health in defiance of contemporary religious and medical beliefs. As Davis observes, besides a discussion of what is natural and therefore healthy, the novel addresses how texts and images work on the senses, and how the imagination can overcome reason. In the Maybe Missed rubric Roxanne Panchasi reviews the film Les Anarchistes (2015). Director Wajeman, she tells us, was less interested in historical events than in investigating love and betrayal. Thus, although the anarchist group in the film eventually acquires a bomb, ideology and violence do not drive the plot. Rather it focuses on the allegiances of the policeman who infiltrates the group. His loyalties are further torn once he becomes infatuated with the group’s leader’s girlfriend, who comes to share his sentiments. Given the beauty and impeccable dress of the actors, Panchasi wonders if this is radical chic and part of a recent, more superficial approach to the past.

Liana Vardi

University at Buffalo, SUNY

 

Table of Contents

The Buzz

[Versailles] On a Dark and Stormy Night, by Charlotte C. Wells

Maybe Missed

“[Avec l’amour au poing]”*: Elie Wajeman’s [Les Anarchistes], by Roxanne Panchasi

Classics in the Classroom

The Laws of Eighteenth-Century Sex: [Thérèse philosophe], by Jennifer J. Davis

Volume 7, Issue 3, February 2017

A Word From the Editor

This issue addresses race and colonialism from three perspectives. In the Buzz, Charles Rearick examines Roschdy Zem’s 2016 biopic of the Belle Époque clown Chocolat. Rafael Padillo was a Black Cuban immigrant who took Paris by storm by playing the dumb sidekick to his partner George Footit. Things grew more complicated, however, once he tried to escape such stereotyping.

In Maybe Missed, Kelly Duke Bryant reviews Senegalese writer Boubacar Boris Diop’s 2006 novel Kaveena, about an imaginary post-colonial African state. The story of a ruthless dictator and his French “handler” who really calls the shots, she argues, reinforces too many clichés about Africa. However, the events recollected by the former head of security and the fragments from the leader’s autobiography also offer insightful commentaries on power, greed, and violence.

The Classic, Didier Daeninckx’s Meurtres pour mémoire, dates from 1983. Using the detective genre, the author challenges the French to remember the 17 October 1961 massacre of Algerian immigrants which, his investigation reveals, is tied to the internment of Jews at Drancy during the Holocaust. The French authorities had swept these events under the rug, but the “outing” of Papon in 1981 made that untenable.

Liana Vardi

University at Buffalo, SUNY

 

Table of Contents

The Buzz

[Chocolat]: A Black Entertainer in the Belle Époque, by Charles Rearick

Maybe Missed

[Kaveena], A Novel of Françafrique, by Kelly Duke Bryant

Classics in the Classroom

Forgetting is Easy, Remembering is Murder: Didier Daeninckx, [Meurtres pour mémoire] (1983), by Alan Morris

Volume 7, Issue 2, January 2017

A Word from the Editor

We are back after a break! This issue offers reviews of familiar topics, the Occupation, the Holocaust, and Napoleon. These continue to attract novelists, filmmakers, and audiences. Our reviewers explain why.

In the Buzz, Michael Sibalis assesses Thomas Keneally’s new novel, Napoleon’s Last Island. The last island is, of course, Saint Helena and the subject Napoleon’s friendship with Betsy Balcombe, the spunky teen-aged daughter of the provisioner to the exiled court. The story is based on the real Betsy’s memoirs and the review delves into their composition and how far Keneally remains faithful to or strays from the historical evidence.

The other two reviews address works recent enough to count as buzzes but I have squeezed them into the “Maybe Missed” and “Classics in the Classroom” categories for publication purposes. In “Maybe Missed,” Shannon Fogg discusses the runaway bestseller The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (soon to be a film directed by Michelle MacLaren). The story follows two sisters who join the Resistance during the German Occupation, the one immediately and the second after a series of plot turns. Historical accuracy not being Hannah’s forte, Fogg explains what she meant to convey by her overview of conditions in France during the war, most particularly for women and those too-often unsung wartime heroines.

In the issue’s third review, Alyssa Sepinwall describes new approaches to the Holocaust in recent French films. Rather than focusing on the round-ups and camps as most films have tended to do, two films in particular, The Origins of Violence and Once in a Lifetime, set the stories in the present. In a way reminiscent of Sarah’s Key, The Origins of Violence shows how the present is affected by past secrets and denials. In Once in a Lifetime, based on a true story, students at a Créteil high school research what happened to French Jews during the war. The third movie, Victor “Young” Perez, brings the empire in through the biopic of a Jewish Tunisian boxer caught in the maelstrom, an inclusion that changes how we think about French victims of the Holocaust.

Liana Vardi

University at Buffalo, SUNY

 

Table of Contents

The Buzz

Betsy and the Emperor: A Well-Worn Tale Retold, by Michael Sibalis

Maybe Missed

Sisters in the Resistance: [The Nightingale], by Shannon L. Fogg

Classics in the Classroom

New Directions in French Holocaust Film: [The Origin of Violence], [Once in a Lifetime], and [Victor “Young” Perez], by Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall

Volume 7, Issue 1, October 2016

A Word from the Editor

Welcome to a new year. As we embark on a new series of reviews, some themes will be familiar and others, we hope, will surprise you. With the increasing difficulty in getting students to read, thinking about assigning novels might seem utopian. Yet I continue to think that they enrich our approach to our own work and offer a different perspective on events to students eager to immerse themselves in the period. I vary my own offerings and this year I’ve added Monsieur le Commandant by Romain Slocombe to my Vichy France syllabus. Each novel in my courses is attached to a series of historical analyses. I’ve reduced the number of movies I show, however, and have students present them instead as part of an oral assignment. Of course, films have always been easier to incorporate in teaching, usually at the risk of losing precious lecture time. Students are immediately engrossed, even if a few find it convenient naptime. As we all know, Media Studies and Film Progams are booming, and many a history department hosts extra-curricular historical movie-nights. More people, as well, even though not trained in film theory, offer courses like my own research seminar on Film in History, as students seek to marry different types of materials. FFFH reviewers themselves seem happier reviewing films than novels. Literature is not so much more daunting than more time-consuming and who has spare time these days? Still, there are stalwarts and it is thanks to them that this bulletin keeps providing reviews of both.

In this first issue we return to the First World War with a review by Béatrix Pau of Pierre Lemaitre’s Au Revoir Là-haut, winner of the 2013 Prix Goncourt. An English translation by Frank Wynne, The Great Swindle, appeared in September 2015. The novel, which focuses on the immediate post-war, begins with a war crime perpetrated on the eve of the Armistice by an ambitious French officer whose further misdeeds are the subject of the book. The war over, that same lieutenant bids successfully for a government contract to remove bodies from battlefield cemeteries for burial in their hometowns and villages. He profits outrageously by providing lower-quality coffins and misidentifying corpses to speed up the process. The scandal bursts and engulfs him by the end of the novel. We also follow the fate of two soldiers who witnessed the first crime and suffered for it. They come out of the war damaged and jobless, the one so disfigured that he refuses to go home to his wealthy family. But he can draw and comes up with a scam to sell war memorials to the thousands of towns that are seeking to honour their dead. From their hovel, he and his friend peddle a brochure with architectural plans from which communities may choose and send an advance. The monuments themselves would never see the light of day but they grow rich. As Béatrix Pau explains, this second scam is a product of the author’s imagination, but the first was very real. Pierre Lemaitre based it on Pau’s prize-winning study of the merchants of death, Le ballet des morts: Etat, armée, familles: s’occuper des corps des la Grande guerre (reissued in 2016). Béatrix Pau offers us her insider’s knowledge, praising the author’s retelling of these sordid undertakings and of the grim aftermath of the war. Exceptionally we publish her review in French.

The tone is much lighter in Ken Alder’s review of 1001 Grams, a Norwegian riff on universal measures that bring representatives to France to test their national prototypes of the kilogram. A delightful rom-com develops around predictability and human whim that he heartily recommends, even if he thinks it’s too low-key to be of use in the classroom.

In our classics section, Michael Lucey revisits André Gide’s 1902 The Immoralist. Using Bourdieu as a guide, he makes the case for a thorough historicization of the novel. This is a difficult work that raises hackles and requires careful handling. The temptation is to project on the era sentiments that were not its own, and he makes sure that we grasp the range of gender identities at the turn of the twentieth century. As such a careful reading of The Immoralist remains fruitful.

Liana Vardi

University at Buffalo, SUNY

 

Table of Contents

The Buzz

[The Great Swindle] ou [Au Revoir, Là-haut] de Pierre Lemaitre, by Béatrix Pau

Maybe Missed

Universal measures: [1001 Grams], by Ken Alder

Classics in the Classroom

On André Gide’s [The Immoralist] (1902), by Michael Lucey

Volume 6, Issue 6, April 2016

A Word from the Editor

In this issue we cover two topics that never grow old: war and sex.

In the Buzz, Patricia Lorcin reviews Laurent Mauvignier’s outstanding novel, The Wound (Des hommes), a harsh and moving look at the traumatic effects of the Algerian War on a couple of French soldiers from the same town.

In a second Buzz, Alan Morris reviews Didier Daeninckx’s Caché dans la maison des fous, the second novel in a series that mingles History (with a capital H) and poetry, commissioned by Bruno Doucey. Daeninckx tells the tale of Paul Eluard, who hid with his wife in the asylum at Saint-Alban during the Occupation. There he composed a series of engaged poems and the novel becomes a reflection on writing itself, the relation between art and madness, and the construction of memory. The first edition sold out within weeks.

In Maybe Missed, Alysssa Sepinwall turns to what she is defining as a new genre in French filmmaking : the Jewish-Muslim relationship film. Her example is Jean-Jacques Zilbermann’s comedy He’s My Girl where a gay Jewish Parisian must sort out his difficulties with commitment: to his Muslim cross-dressing boyfriend, to his ex-wife and son (from a Hasidic New York background), to his Jewish mother, a Holocaust-survivor.

Charlotte Wells returns to Classics in the Classroom, this time discussing adaptations of The Three Musketeers, from silent film to the BBC series currently entering its third season. Swashbuckling heroes mingle with innocent maidens and evil femmes fatales; the violence of the early modern era is transformed into jolly sparring; the rise of the absolutist state into the machinations of Cardinal Richelieu against a weak monarch. While faithfulness to Dumas, never mind to history, is rarely a consideration, the new BBC series takes a new tack, treating the seventeenth century as a Western with leather-clad heroes and strong-willed women.

Happy reading and great summer break. We return in October.

Liana Vardi

University at Buffalo, SUNY

 

Table of Contents

The Buzz

Men at War: Laurent Mauvignier’s [The Wound], by Patricia M.E. Lorcin
In Praise of Folly: Didier Daeninckx, [Caché dans la maison des fous], by Alan Morris

Maybe Missed

Jewish-Muslim Romance with a French Twist: Jean-Jacques Zilbermann’s [He’s My Girl], by Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall

Classics in the Classroom

“Keep Those Swords Away from the Computer, Boys!” The Three Musketeers in the Classroom, by Charlotte C. Wells

Volume 6, Issue 5, March 2016

A Word from the Editor

In this issue’s Buzz, we revisit Albert Camus’s Algeria through the adaptation of his short story “L’hôte.” In this spare tale, a French Algerian escorts an Arab to jail across a mountainous wilderness. David Oelhoffen has created a very different film, exploring the two main characters’ background in ways that did not interest Camus. Through a series of encounters, he also shows the various groups engaged in the struggle for and against Algerian independence, making the film eminently teachable. But, as Joshua Cole explains, Oelhoffen’s more nuanced and humanistic approach can backfire when it moves too far away from Camus’s original intentions.

In Maybe Missed, Adam Watt tackles Nina Companeez’s four-hour TV adaptation of Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu.In something of a tour-de-force, he compares this to other movie adaptations and demonstrates how, albeit in highly compressed fashion, she manages to render Proust’s major themes and characters, including societal shifts between the fin-de-siècle and early1920s. Some of these choices are explained in the “making-of” inserted in the review in lieu of preview (there being none). As for the rest, it is best to dip into the great work itself.

In the Classics section, Brian Sandberg introduces the first two books of Robert Merle’s saga, Fortune de France, whose 13 volumes are being translated into English at the rate of one a year. Set during the wars of religion, the books focus on a Périgord noble family thrown into the maelstrom of this great conflict, with some family members becoming Huguenots and others remaining Catholic.While Merle offers swashbuckling adventures to rival Dumas, he has also carefully recreated the social panorama of the era through the insertion of “notarial records and livres de raison” inspired by Annales School research in vogue when he began in 1977.

Liana Vardi

University at Buffalo, SUNY

 

Table of Contents

The Buzz

Albert Camus’s “L’hôte” becomes [Loin des hommes] (Far From Men), by Joshua Cole

Maybe Missed

Nina Companeez tackles [À la recherche du temps perdu], by Adam Watt

Classics in the Classroom

Robert Merle’s Wars of Religion: [The Brethren] and [City of Wisdom and Blood], by Brian Sandberg

Volume 6, Issue 4, February 2016

Word from the Editor

Love, loyalty and families, murder and suicide, oppression and self-realization all feature in this month’s reviews.

In the Buzz, Philip Nord shares his enthusiasm for Christophe Boltanski’s La Cache. The central characters are the author’s grandparents and their apartment on the rue de Grenelle. This is a family with secrets, not all of which are unraveled. At its heart, Myriam, the formidable grandmother, is determined to insulate her brood from the outside world, despite meagre resources. She manages to hide her husband Etienne from the French police during the Occupation. While uncles Jean-Elie and Christian, aunt Anne and his father Luc are part of the narrative, it is Christophe’s fond and bemused recollections that allow us to penetrate this fortress and gain some insight into a family forever poised between two worlds.

In Maybe Missed, Natalya Vince guides us through The Meursault Investigation, Kamel Daoud’s response to Albert Camus’s L’Étranger. The novel treats the original as “real,” and reveals Meursault’s victim’s identity (Musa) who, in Camus’s account, was just a nameless Arab. Seated at a bar in Oran, the murdered Musa’s now elderly brother Harun describes to a young journalist what life was like under colonial rule, during the fight for independence, and in its aftermath. He has little to be proud of in his own life, but his mother and long-ago girlfriend had the guts he lacks. As Natalya Vince demonstrates, this is a multi-layered tale in which the present confronts the past.

In the Classics section, Jim Allen looks at the latest adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. While no movie can do justice to the novel, Allen gives us reasons to appreciate Sophie Barthes’s 2014 version. She brings to the film a strong visual aesthetic, turning Flaubert’s words into striking imagery. Likewise, Mia Wasikowska’s combination of poise and intensity is able to convey, with a look, Emma Bovary’s longings, petulance, and ultimate despair. The film is an excellent illustration of the desires created by the new consumer society, with Emma remodeling her house and ordering increasingly lavish (and unforgettable) dresses in her determination to rise above her station.

Liana Vardi

University at Buffalo, SUNY

 

Table of Contents

The Buzz

Christophe Boltanski’s Memories of War and Peace, by Philip Nord

Maybe Missed

Literature as post-colonial reality? Kamel Daoud’s [The Meursault Investigation], by Natalya Vince

Classics in the Classroom

Sophie Barthes’s [Madame Bovary], by James Smith Allen

Volume 6, Issue 3 December 2015

A Word from the Editor

In the Buzz, Eliza Ferguson reviews Benoît Jacquot’s Journal d’une femme de chambre, the latest adaptation of Octave Mirbeau’s 1900 novel. Léa Seydoux is scintillating in the title role and persuasively embittered, but the film sidesteps the full panoply of decadence that Mirbeau depicted. Jacquot is faithful, however, to Mirbeau’s condemnation of bourgeois hypocrisy, anti-Semitism, and right-wing nationalism. Either the novel or the film, Ferguson tells us, would make a fine addition to a course on modern France, giving students an intimate look at gender and late-nineteenth-century social conflicts. The film, available on French DVD, will be released this spring in the United States.

Coincidentally, the remainder of the issue focuses on Victor Hugo. Charles Rearick reviews a new prize-winning novel, Judith Perrignon’s Victor Hugo vient de mourir. In this novelistic “docudrama,” Perrignon recreates the debates and fears surrounding Victor Hugo’s death in May 1885. While the authorities worry that the funeral would occasion a working-class rising, anarchists and socialists fret about the co-optation of “their” Victor Hugo by the State. We are reminded that the Commune had occurred only fourteen years earlier and its legacy was still vivid. Marisa Linton begins her review of Ninety-Three (1874) by stating that the tragic events of the Commune were very much on Victor Hugo’s mind. The novel deals with revolutionary violence through the confrontation of the Revolutionary army and the Vendée’s anti-Republican rebels. Hugo describes the motivations on both sides even-handedly, although conceding that the Revolution was on the side of progress. Still, he wonders whether the hard-boiled revolutionaries of 1793 might not have shown some mercy. Linton concludes that some chapters in particular are worth assigning to students for their forceful recreation of the era.

Liana Vardi

University at Buffalo, SUNY

 

Table of Contents

The Buzz

Benoît Jacquot’s [Journal d’une femme de chambre], by Eliza Earle Ferguson

Maybe Missed

Victor Hugo’s Funeral as Historical Fiction, by Charles Rearick

Classics in the Classroom

Victor Hugo, [Ninety-Three] ([Quatrevingt-treize]), by Marisa Linton

Volume 6, Issue 2 November 2015

A Word from the Editor

This issue’s Buzz is the film version of Irène Némirovsky’s Suite française. Unlike those film critics who have reproached the director for his unfaithfulness to the novel, Simon Kitson explains why this concern is unjustified. What is more, he believes the author would have approved the inclusion of the rounding-up of Jews, even if anachronistic, because she had intended to chronicle the German occupation to France’s liberation. Although no masterpiece, the movie presents eminently teachable moments.

In his review of Entre les murs/The Class, Martin O’Shaughnessy, author of a new book on Laurent Cantet (Manchester University Press, 2015), describes how the director structures his movies. He focuses on Cantet’s use of space to express isolation or interaction, discussing several examples from the movie. Moreover, he demonstrates how Cantet expertly exposes the myths that surround Republican schooling. It is not Cantet’s style, however, to resolve issues for us; he means us to consider them more deeply.

In the Classics section, another expert, Alan Morris, revisits Patrick Modiano’s Occupation Trilogy. Although not a real trilogy, the set includes Modiano’s first three novels, Place de l’Étoile, Night Watch and Ring Roads, gathered together for the first time in English. In his spare, allusive style, Modiano addresses the Occupation and his father’s louche activities, an obsession from which he would gradually free himself. With each novel, Modiano gets closer to the criminal Gestapo collaborationists operating out of 93 rue Lauriston with whom his father worked, despite being a Jew. As Morris explains, historians have been interested in Modiano because of his fascination with the unreliable nature of memory and for openly discussing collaboration at a time when the myth of resistance still prevailed.

Liana Vardi

University at Buffalo, SUNY

 

Table of Contents

The Buzz

[Suite Française], by Simon Kitson

Maybe Missed

Are you sure you think what you think? Laurent Cantet’s [Entre les murs] and mythologies of Republican education, by Martin O'Shaughnessy

Classics in the Classroom

Into the Heart of Darkness: Patrick Modiano, [The Occupation Trilogy] (2015), by Alan Morris

Volume 6, Issue 1 October 2015

A WORD FROM THE EDITOR

We begin this year with a series of film reviews. My preview of new French films with “historical content” at the Toronto Film Festival yielded no gems and some disappointments. I found La peur, set in the trenches of World War I, excruciatingly boring and its supposed “realism” much exaggerated. Although Aleksandr Sukarov’s Francofonia was gorgeous to look at, the director’s meditations on the fate of western culture were heavy-handed and sometimes puzzling. Despite its [French] title, the film dealt little with the Louvre during the Occupation, focusing instead on the intersection of creative and destructive urges. In the end, one film grabbed me: Diastème’s Un Français, about a neo-Nazi skinhead in the 1980s whom we follow over three decades as he sheds his racism and his rage. His personal redemption is contrasted to the Front national’s cosmetic efforts to do the same.

In the Maybe Missed section, Kathleen Wellman reviews A Little Chaos, Alan Rickman’s fantasy about Louis XIV, Le Nôtre, and the building of the gardens at Versailles. The spunky heroine, an independent gardener who seduces both Le Nôtre and the King with her talent, is winningly played by Kate Winslet. The film’s recasting of the monarch as fond paterfamilias and botanical experimenter is more Farmer George than historical Louis, but this is, after all, a fantasy.

Lastly, in our Classics rubric, Elena Russo guides us through Abdellatif Kechiche’s L’Esquive, winner of 15 international awards. A class in one of the cités is rehearsing Marivaux’s Games of Love and Chance, while their daily life mirrors some of its plot. Most important, Elena Russo tells us, is that they absorb from Marivaux a different way of expressing emotions and the ambiguous states they cause. The film is not meant to update Marivaux to the banlieue but rather to show how classics can expand one’s conceptual apparatus.

With this issue, Eric Reed, historian of the Tour de France, leaves us as web editor to take on high administrative duties at his univesrity. He has been a terrific colleague and the team will greatly miss him.

Liana Vardi

University at Buffalo, SUNY

 

Table of Contents

The Buzz

The Politics of Violence: [Un Français], by Liana Vardi

Maybe Missed

[A Little Chaos] in Louis XIV’s Court, by Kathleen Wellman

Classics in the Classroom

Revisiting Kechiche’s [L’Esquive] (Games of Love and Chance), by Elena Russo