Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Children of Chabannes (March 25th and 27th at the Cleveland International Film Festival)

[THE CHILDREN OF CAHABNNES screens March 25th at 11:30am and March 27th at 2:05pm at the Cleveland International Film Festival.]

Review by Charles Cassady Jr.

In the crowded field of Holocaust documentaries there is a sub-genre, arguably best represented by the Oscar-winning INTO THE ARMS OF STRANGERS, about the plight of Jewish children during the Final Solution, whether the fraction who were relocated via "kindertransports" or the ones who had to seek safety undercover with "righteous gentiles" taking them in. CHILDREN OF CHABANNES is one of the latter. While in many ways not stylistically a standout in the genre, it carries the heart-grabbing emotional footnote that one of the boy survivors involved would grow up to be the father of co-director Lisa Gossels.
So the matter is quite personal when Gossels pere et fille revisit and retell tales of Chabannes, an obscure village in the south of France, whose citizens, chiefly a schoolteacher and opinion-leader named Felix Chevrier, gave refuge to more than 400 Jewish children during the dark years of the Nazi Holocaust. In this same time period 11,000 other French kids of Jewish descent perished, handed over to the death camps by anti-Semites and collaborators, while Chevrier and his fellow teachers kept their young charges safe (though many wound up orphaned, as their parents fell victim to German roundups and cattle cars bound for the death camps).
While filmmakers come up with numerous first-hand accounts of heroism by the Chabannes teachers and townsfolk, the part that really fascinates is the ancillary societal detail that makes a great compare-contrast with the attitudes in metropolitan and Vichy-controlled France, especially Paris. It seems the rustics in the Chabbanes region - who'd probably get the same rude treatment in a restaurant by Parisian sophisticates that any of us American Yankee dogs would - didn't toe the line set by Nazi occupiers for this reason: This `backward' part of the country still took very literally the code of the Rights of Man promulgated during the French Revolution more than 150 years earlier. And since the farmers around hereabouts were largely illiterate, they didn't fall for the rampant anti-Semite propaganda printed in newspapers and pamphlets pouring out of the "educated" parts of the country. It just didn't register. In other words, they Didn't Believe the Liberal Media. Wonder if there's a lesson in there for anything going on today? As the French say, formidable! (2 1/2 out of 4 stars)


  1. So, chalk one up for illiteracy?

  2. Yes, exactly. The values of a "backward" enclave of French society proved more humane than the well-educated one. At least that's one interpretation, which I found offbeat and novel (and it plays well to my resentment of my worthless college degree).


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