Filmmakers confront French dark chapter of shame

An interesting discussion last night in Paris at a Yahad-sponsored showing of La Rafle (The Roundup in English), a film about the 1942 rounding up of French police of 13,000 Jews, locked in the Vel d’Hiver cycling velodrome before being transported to the death camps.

SPAIN2Following the film, Father Desbois moderated an audience exchange with Director Roselyn Bosch and Producer Alain Goldman about the making of the film and the reaction in France since its release in March.

Not unexpectedly, the film’s portrayal of French complicity in Nazi war crimes stirred strong emotions and debate, drawing both praise and criticism but with overall highly positive reviews.  The filmmakers appeared to be willing to let the French public’s reception of the film serve as the ultimate measure:  3 million spectators, a very strong showing in France for a non-comedy and with strong representation among 12-25 year olds at the box office.  Among the audiences in attendance at special presentations and discussions of the film have been classes of French gendarme cadets seeking to understand the role played by some of their predecessors in one of the country’s darkest hours.

Bosch spoke in particular about the care taken in choosing and working with the 200 children who played the parts of the imprisoned Jewish children, torn from the arms of their mothers and, ultimately, herded into the rail cars that took them to the camps.  Guided by child psychology specialists, the director said they paid careful attention to protect the children from exposure to the trauma that their performances helped bring to life.

For some in France, the film’s release earlier this year marked another step in the country’s coming to grips with its mixed history during the time of Occupation.  An article in The Guardian included the assessment of the story’s cinematic prospects in 1995 by Joseph Weisman, whose escape from imprisonment as an 11-year-old is recounted in La Rafle:  “I don’t think that anyone would ever dare.”

The film’s international release is set for 2011; its U.S. premier occurred last week at the Washington Jewish Film Festival.

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Father Desbois moderating audience discussion last night in Paris following showing of La Rafle with Director Roselyn Bosch and Producer Alain Goldman. ?