18 October 2010 | kinsayder
La Kermesse horrifique
The Spanish occupation of Flanders had already been the setting for Jacques Feyder's wonderful comedy "La Kermesse héroïque" of 1935. A decade later, there was not much comedy to be found in the subject of enemy occupation, and Louis Daquin's "Patrie", about a resistance movement to expel the invaders, has an altogether more serious and darker tone. It deals with persecution, summary execution, betrayal and collaboration, heroism in the face of death, and above all the hope of liberation and the sense of menace that might crush it at any moment. No Frenchman in 1946 could have had any doubt that he was watching a film about recent events in his country.
The correspondence between Pierre Blanchar's band of patriots and the French Résistance is so emphatic that one wonders why Daquin even felt the need to step back in time four centuries to tell this story. There was no longer an interdiction on films dealing directly with wartime events; nor does the historical setting throw any greater light on those events (as Arthur Miller's allegory of McCarthyism in "The Crucible" does, for example). Perhaps Daquin's point is simply that "There is nothing new under the sun".
Allegory aside, "Patrie" is a gripping drama that builds to a grim but stirring conclusion. Pierre Blanchar, tight-lipped and fierce-eyed, is the embodiment of suppressed fervour. Jean Desailly and Maria Mauban, as the lovers whose relationship threatens to undermine Blanchar's resistance movement, give intelligent and subtle performances. There is an excellent supporting cast (notably Louis Seigner as a wily prelate) and Daquin's unhurried, attentive direction shows them to advantage.
The use of music is interesting in "Patrie". The opening credits roll to a melody on church bells which, we soon discover, is a symbol of the resistance and the signal for the army of liberation to attack. The melody is taken up in various forms throughout the film until its dramatic use in the final scene.