De Gaulle

A sentimental portrait of the general
Palace Films
by
ABR Arts 04 May 2021

De Gaulle

A sentimental portrait of the general
Palace Films
by
ABR Arts 04 May 2021
Lambert Wilson as Charles de Gaulle in De Gaulle (Palace Films)
Lambert Wilson as Charles de Gaulle in De Gaulle (Palace Films)

General Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970) was an icon of the French Resistance movement during the Nazi occupation of France in World War II. Lending his name to the postwar Gaullist myth that presented France as a collective, unalloyed nation of resistance fighters, de Gaulle (founder and president of the Fifth Republic from 1959 to 1969) became a symbol of French strength, determination, and honour during a divisive and turbulent period of history.

From the New Issue

Comments (2)

  • Thanks for your feedback, Peter. I am always pleased to see people motivated to defend a film which moved them. I have responded to each of your comments below:
    1) Yes, although I outline the period of the debacle as April-June 1940 in the first paragraph, by saying that the film focuses on the events of the Occupation (early to mid-1940s) that perhaps muddies the waters.
    2 & 3) While I agree that the sequence of the German soldiers in the de Gaulle family home is indeed a manifestation of Mme de Gaulle’s fears, whether it is a dream or not does not negate its status as an aesthetic homage to a previous film’s treatment of the period. The same point can be made about the dog’s corpse – it is the specificity of that particular image which conjures the dead puppy in the arms of the young Paulette in Jeux interdits (a film which, in my opinion, captures the horror of the German air raids in a far more arresting and effective manner than De Gaulle).
    4) I do not question the tender representation of the General’s love for his daughter, a softer side of his character rarely documented as you note in point 5. I instead take issue with the repetitive emotional manipulation of the audience which renders his daughter a narrative vehicle rather than an individual with her own emotional experiences.
    5) Here, we simply disagree on whether the film struck enough of a balance between its narrative concerns, its perceived historical responsibilities, and its Gaullist ideology.
    6) Charles de Gaulle is indeed a fascinating and complex figure – let’s not forget the issues surrounding the Algerian conflict in his later leadership – I do wish the film had explored the relationship with Pétain further given its later significance but with such a narrow focus (the few months at the start of the Occupation), it was clearly too much to ask.
    I’m glad you enjoyed the film.
    Posted by Lisa Harper Campbell
    19 May 2021
  • A couple of comments.
    (1) the film is NOT set in the mid-1940s. It's set in May-June 1940. That's all.
    (2) "Drunken soldiers looking at and mocking family photos alludes to Jacques Audiard’s Un héros très discret (A Self-made Hero)..." was very clearly a dream. It encapsulated Madame de Gaulle's fears of what would happen to the family home, when the Germans arrived.
    (3) "and a dog’s corpse on the road .........." there were also human corpses too - in fact, more than a single dog and emblematic of how German pilots did strafe refugee columns.
    (4) "The frequent resort to creating tension when Anne wanders off only to be found a few minutes later by her panicked mother seems insincere. " Why ? Perhaps it represented the fragility of all families fleeing the Germans, made more poignant for the love that the General had for her and that she was otherwise in the care of Madame de Gaulle in the panic of war-time.
    (5) "in an otherwise unremarkable history-lesson-cum-family-drama".
    Really ?? I thought it was a fine balance that humanised the General, who cared both for his country and his family. Monsieur le General is too often portrayed as aloof and cold.
    (6) the backstory not told in the film was that de Gaulle had been captured by the Germans at Verdun and spent the rest of World War I in POW camps. from which he made five escape attempts. Then he had to stand up the supposed "hero of Verdun" (Petain), who was willing to sell out France and was subsequently convicted of a being a traitor after the war.

    There was a passing reference to World War I as the house was being evacuated, when the maid said she had had to do the same in that earlier war.

    The film is a truly nuanced tale of a dreadful period of French history.
    Posted by Peter Graves
    17 May 2021

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