Political Film Society - Newsletter #187 - December 20, 2003

December 20, 2003


The StatementThe Vichy regime was a part of France not occupied by the German military but instead governed by French who were willing to collaborate with the Nazis. Although much attention has been directed at Klaus Barbie, the "Butcher of Lyon," less well known is his French counterpart, known as the "Hangman of Lyon," Paul Touvier. In 1947, Touvier was indicted for killing seven Jews at Rillieux-la-Pape near Lyon on June 29, 1944, but he managed to evade capture until 1967, when the statute of limitations for his crime ran out. His pardon by President Georges Pompidou in 1971 evoked such a furor that he was later indicted for committing a "crime against humanity," and he again evaded capture until 1989, when he was found in a monastery in Nice that was operated by followers of Msgr. Marcel Lefebvre, a right-wing cleric whom the Vatican had excommunicated in 1988. According to Touvier, the Nazis demanded the deaths of one hundred Jews in retaliation for the assassination of Vichy Minister of Information Philippe Henriot by Resistance fighters in Paris, but he bargained the number down to seven, whereas others claimed that he was Barbie's enthusiastic assistant. After his conviction in 1994, Touvier died in a hospital prison in 1996. Based on the novel by Brian Moore, the film entitled The Statement is dedicated to the memory of some 77,007 Jews who died in Vichy France during World War II and changes a few facts of the Touvier saga to focus on a Pierre Brossard (played by Michael Caine), who was ordered in Dombey by his commanding officer during June 1944 to round up seven Jews of the French Resistance who were also suspected of Communist loyalties; he then supervised their death by firing squad, including putting the final bullets into those who did not appear dead. After the war, Brossard was imprisoned for his role in the massacre, but a highly placed friend in the new French Republic arranged his release from prison, so he was a fugitive from justice thereafter, moving from one location to another to avoid recapture.

Members of a secret anti-Semitic and anti-Communist Catholic group known as the Chevalier du Sainte Marie, an ultraconservative group which believes that the pope is not a true Catholic, gave refuge to Brossard in various Catholic monasteries, while he was paid by his benefactor, who ultimately arranged to have the President of France pardon Brossard for his crime. Brossard, however, went into hiding again after France's parliament adopted the Law Against Humanity, which provided a new offense on which to try him for deeds that had been haunting his dreams and making him a devout Catholic, desperate to be ready to die in a "state of grace." The film begins in 1992, when the Brossard case is assigned to a new prosecutor, half-Jewish Annmarie Livi (played by Tilda Swinton), and Army Colonel Roux (played by Jeremy Northam). Meanwhile, a mysterious man by the name David Joseph Mandelbaum (played by Matt Craven) is also tracking Brossard's movements with the aim of assassinating him and then pinning to his dead body a paper entitled "Statement," which will boast that his death is in retaliation for the Dombey Massacre. Thus, Brossard has two pursuers, and the action in the film consists of his flight from arrest or murder in which he relies on trusted friends, notably those in the clergy, his estranged wife (played by Charlotte Rampling), right-wing Catholic extremists affiliated with the Chevalier cabal, and his own pistol, which he uses to murder Mandelbaum and, later, Mandelbaum's replacement. In the process, the cinematography magnificently presents Marseilles, Paris as well as several Catholic monasteries in Provence. Directed by Normal Jewison, The Statement, which highlights the inner conflicts of a man who was ordered to kill and then struggled to remain a good Catholic, has been nominated by the Political Film Society for best film exposé and best film in raising consciousness about human rights for the year 2003. MH

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The Statement
by Brian Moore

While Moore's new novel can be called a thriller, it is in fact another of his stunning moral visions of modern life (Lies of Silence; The Colors of Blood) that have marked him as an astute, impassioned chronicler of 20th-century spiritual malaise.