Shadows on the Past: Studies in the Historical Fiction Film

By Leger Grindon | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
The Politics of History: La Marseillaise

Renoir is above the struggle; he observes. La Marseillaise has more than anything the look of newsreels. -- FRANÇOIS TRUFFAUT, 1971

We wanted to put ourselves in the place of the people that we have chosen. I would lie in saying that I am impartial. No, I am not, and with all our heart we march with the Marseillaise to Paris with a determined goal. -- JEAN RENOIR, 1937

La Marseillaise was a product of France in 1937, Depression France, France of the Popular Front. This chronicle of the French Revolution is enmeshed in its political milieu, and only distance from the circumstances of the production can sustain François Truffaut's view of the film as detached and nonpartisan. A return to contemporary reports places the film firmly amid the struggles of its time, and one sees not the objective account, but the disjointed polemic.


| The Political Circumstances

News of La Marseillaise began to appear in the press early in 1937. On February 11 Paris-Soir announced, "For the first time in France there is going to be a production of a major film by national subscription. Officially sponsored by the government, supported by the Confédération Générale du Travail (C.G.T.), 1 directed by Jean Renoir, the film will have for its subject the French Revolution and will probably be titled La Marseillaise." 2 The picture was planned on an ambitious scale, with a projected budget of three million francs. 3 A massive subscription drive was initiated in an attempt to finance the picture outside normal chan-

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