16 November 2017 | hof-4
Reality as theater
The Franco-Prussian or Franco-German War started on July 1870 and ended in May 1871. It resulted in a decisive defeat of the French forces that included the capture of Emperor Napoleon III on September 2, 1870 at Sedan. When the news of Sedan reached Paris, the Second Empire was overthrown by an insurrection and a provisional, republican government was put in place. The war continued and Paris was put under siege on September 17. The new government capitulated on January 1871.
On May 1871 there was an civilian uprising in Paris supported by some National Guard units. A Commune was elected that included socialists and anarchists, while government forces retreated to Versailles. Shortly after, a civil war began between the regular army and the revolutionaries, which culminated in the Bloody Week of May 21-25. More than 30,000 Communards were massacred, including women and children. Others were captured, summarily tried and dealt harsh sentences including the death penalty.
Director Ken McMullen approaches this subject in an overtly theatrical way. Parts of the action take place on a stage, other parts unfold out in the open but have a theater feeling. Some of the characters are real, like Queen Victoria's son Edward, Prince of Wales and future king Edward VII. Karl Marx appears in various scenes explaining his take on the insurrection. Other real characters are General Gaston Galliffet (responsible for the massacres) and Gustave Cluseret, an adventurer and member of the Commune who had served in the Union Army in the American Civil War, fought with Garibaldi's forces and helped organize Irish rebels. Other characters are fictional. There are many elusive puns; for instance, when the army advances on the Communards we hear an echo of Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony, in particular of the theme that represents the advance of the Nazis.
The final result is uneven, with some of the side stories given too much screen time, but the film holds together well. There are some stirring scenes too, like one where La Internationale is sung on stage. A remarkable movie.