21 September 2010 | guy-bellinger
Life in Occupied France as if you were there
If you want to have a comprehensive view of what it was like to be a French citizen during the Occupation of the country by German Troops and under Vichy rule, read Jean Dutourd's 1952 "Au Bon Beurre" and/or watch Edouard Molinaro's 1980 filmed mini-series, written by film star Roger Hanin along with Pierre Pelegri, faithfully adapted from the book by Dutourd (who fully approved it and even makes an uncredited appearance as one of the customers of the dairy shop "Au Bon Beurre"). You will plunge into the particular atmosphere of a period when, although tragedy was unfurling behind the scenes, the main problem in day-to-day life lay in queues and rationing. In addition you will get the most complete sample of French people of that time ever, from Marshall Pétain himself, to his high-ranked collaborators (Legrandier) or small- time zealots (M. Lebugle, M.Deprat), to the victims of the regime (M. Rappoport, a Jewish tailor whose entire family has been sent to a concentration camp), to war prisoners, to resisters (effective like Jules and Alphonse, or naive and ineffective like Léon), to the silent majority who keeps a low profile trying to avoid trouble. And last but not the least, to opportunistic profiteers, illustrated here through Charles-Henri Poissonard and his wife Julie, a couple of shopkeepers who unashamedly take advantage of the situation, supplying goods from the black market and selling them ten times what they are worth.
Both Jean Dutourd and Edouard Molinaro went through this difficult period and know their subject to perfection. As you can imagine, the result is more than just convincing. You really get the feeling you are one among the protagonists in those toubled times. Some, like Alain Rémond in Télérama,blame Molinaro's direction for lacking style. I do not share this point of view. I would say on the contrary that Edouard Molinaro quite rightly discarded showy effects to better capture, as he writes in his autobiography 'Intérieur soir', the "threatening quiet of the war years".
As the couple of dishonorable grocers, Roger Hanin (excessive, but just what it takes to remain human) and Andréa Ferreol (her false smiles are a model!) are excellent. They are surrounded by a numerous cast including Jean-Claude Dauphin (whose 'dreamy' performance fits the character well), Paul Guers (a joy to watch as a doctor who profits by the profiteers), Christine Pascal ( moving as the Poissonards' mistreated first maid), Catherine Allégret (as the rebellious second maid), and many others, all very good.
'Au Bon Beurre' stands the test of time. Realistic, satirical, ambiguous and well interpreted, it can be seen with pleasure thirty years after it was made.