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The Sorrow and the Pity

There are several reasons why The Sorrow and the Pity is one of the greatest documentaries of all time. Director Marcel Ophuls immersed himself in his material, and, at four-and-a-half hours of running time, he gave himself room to explore his complex themes. But Ophuls also had a point to make. It was an unpredictable point — that the French Resistance was not as beloved in its own country as subsequent history would have everyone believe — and Ophuls declined to adopt that false god of journalistic "objectivity" in order to make it. The Sorrow and the Pity takes as its home base the city of Clermont-Ferrand, lodged almost in the center of France. Ophuls uses the city as a synecdoche for France's wartime attitude toward the German occupation. Though far from Paris, it was only 60-some miles from Vichy, the wartime capital of France, and it was also lodged in the region where resistance activity was most intense. The film begins with the ancient, but still farming, Grave brothers, one of whom spent time in Buchenwald for his resistance activities after he was betrayed by a neighbor. Thereafter, it ranges from Anthony Eden, a British politician associated with Churchill, who gives the British line on the fall of France, to Pierre Mendes-France, a Jewish politician indicted for desertion and imprisoned by a kangaroo court, only to escape under somewhat comical circumstances. Naturally, The Sorrow and the Pity stirred controversy at the time of its release. French citizens were disinclined to remember that their's was the only country to actively collaborate with the conquering German government. French television in 1969 refused to air it, and instead the film played at a small theater on the Left Bank, where the documentary proved to be a hit. It was released in America 1972, originally by Cinema 5, and now Milestone Pictures has revived it and improved the subtitles Ophuls makes you work. His documentary requires a great deal of concentration — which makes DVD presentation of it ideal. The movie is 251 minutes long, and, in its DVD debut from Image Entertainment, it comes in a two-disc set with a widescreen transfer(1.85:1). The source-print is rather scratchy and chemically stained, though that doesn't really interfere with one's appreciation of Ophuls's themes and ideas. Audio is in Dolby Digital mono, with English subtitles, which is adequate for the film's purposes. Supplements consist solely of the theatrical trailer, which, frankly fails to capture the essence of the movie or create excitement for it. The static menus come with 14 and 16 chapter scene-selection. Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm

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