The Sorrow and the Pity Blu-ray Review: A Multi-perspective Essay on the German Occupation of France

It’s 259 minutes long, it’s a bunch of interviews with folks who resisted (and others who collaborated with) the German Occupation of France, and it’s occasionally spiced with bits of newsreels and other propagandistic material.

If you’re not interested in World War II, you will likely struggle to connect with The Sorrow and the Pity. You’ll find it a slog.

To extract anything from it, the rest of us must surrender and allow its relaxed rhythm to permeate our minds. To listen—and then listen some more. Director/interviewer Marcel Ophuls (the son of filmmaker Max Ophuls) probes one interviewee after the next (much of the film centers on the city of Clermont-Ferrand, near Vichy). Their testimony paints a detailed picture of what it was like (for common folks and those in positions of power) to live through the siege. How it might feel, for example, to know that your neighbor gave you up to the Nazis.

There is plenty that is said, and lots left unsaid. Exhaustion, pride, conflicts of loyalty—The Sorrow and the Pity is a multifaceted portrait of human frailty writ large. It withholds judgment. Ophuls gives us so much to absorb. Yet he leaves it to us to decide how we might feel about everything he shows us.

It was hard going for me, but I applaud the film’s achievement. Ophuls avoids presenting his subjects in cheap, didactic terms. The film is anti-propagandistic. Collecting memories—archiving a treasure trove of footage produced during one of the darker times in history—The Sorrow and the Pity is an incredible document.

Kino Lorber has released The Sorrow and the Pity on a two-disc Blu-ray, in a new 2K restoration. Disc one has Part 1 of the film and a visual history of Marcel Ophuls. Disc two has Part 2 of the film and the re-release trailer.

Jack Cormack

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