With the passing of each year it feels like our collective knowledge of the events of World War II dissipates. Whilst understanding of the major events will always be there, it’s the minutiae which is often where we can learn the greatest lessons. Take France. Split geographically between the Occupied zone in the North and the ‘zone libre’ in the South. Split politically between Marshal Pétain’s Vichy government in the free zone and the Charles de Gaulle’s Free French government in exile. The actions of the French during the war give key insights into what it means to be human.

Marcel Ophüls’s The Sorrow and the Pity uses Clermont-Ferrand, which was close to Vichy, as its base. The film is split into two parts. The collapse of the Maginot Line sent some fleeing abroad but most stayed. Collaboration and suspicion quickly became a part of everyday life as Pétain worked with the Nazis to keep some of the country technically unoccupied. The choice French citizens had, from all classes, was to collaborate or revolt. Most chose the former.

The Sorrow and the Pity uses contemporary interviews, archive footage and propaganda films to burst the myth of revolutionary France. Whilst a small minority of the, normally working-class, population actively resisted the occupation, through guerrilla warfare (Maquis) or the underground, most did not. The majority just got on with their lives the best they could. Ophüls leave critique of this open to judgement, but hindsight and history are wonderful things. The Sorrow and the Pity is a fascinating insight into the human condition.

Special Edition Contents:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation, from materials supplied by Gaumont
  • Original French mono audio (uncompressed LPCM on the Blu-ray)
  • Optional English subtitles
  • Interview with director Marcel Ophuls, filmed in 2004
  • Le Nouveau Vendredi: The Sorrow and the Pity, a 55-minute debate that followed the film’s belated 1981 French television premiere, in which Ophuls and historians Henri Amouroux and Alain Guérin discuss the film and the issues that it raises with an audience of students from Clermont-Ferrand
  • Reversible sleeve featuring new and original artwork

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Booklet featuring writing on the film by Pauline Kael and Jean-Pierre Melville, plus extensive historical context.

The Sorrow and the Pity is released on Blu-ray by Arrow Academy on Monday 26 June.