After Merry Christmas, a historical fresco that looked at how soldiers on the front fraternised during the Christmas of 1914, Christian Carion has taken an interest in the exodus in his latest feature film En mai fais ce qu'il te plaît (Come What May). He talks about the reasons for his choice and the educational project that accompanies the film.
Why did you choose to make a film about this precise period of the exodus?
Where I come from, in the North of France, every family was deeply marked by this period. My mother, who was 14 years old at the time, lived through that month of May 1940 and the memory of the exodus is still very present in my family as in all those in the region. Eight million people on the roads, that's something that stays etched in people's minds. You could say that this is not a real subject because it was not a glorious time, the people were abandoned by the authorities. Not accustomed to no longer being watched over, the people on the roads did not know what to do. The collapse of the State was a real shock for the people. My grandfather, mayor of his village and deeply Republican (played by Olivier Gourmet in the film), left with the bust of Marianne... Everything he believed in no longer existed. The historian Olivier Wieviorka, with whom we worked, used tell us that many things about French behaviour during the war stemmed from the exodus, this terrible moral chasm: the people would no longer believe in the political elite because it had abandoned them. The trauma was all the greater for this generation that had experienced the German occupation and had barely finished rebuilding their homes when they had to flee again.
How was the documentary and research work on the film carried out?
My starting point was what I was told by my mother. I called on France 3 Nord - Pas - de - Calais and Picardie to collect exodus stories. And we were overwhelmed with testimonies from inhabitants: lots of letters, but also recordings of their grandparents. People could finally talk about it. All this material has been transcribed; it will in fact be given over to the departmental Archives. The stories confirmed what my mother had told me and provided us with anecdotes that were used in some parts of the script. But I wanted to make a more open film, not just a French-focused film. I knew that British soldiers had been caught up in the chaos and were unable to reach Dunkirk, that's why there's a Scottish character in the film. I also wanted to have a German who was not a Nazi - the character of Hans in the film who fled Germany (there was an estimated 300,000 German civilians who sought refuge in France) and who became a permanent alien. I wanted the war to be seen from the individual's point of view, showing their day to day lives and giving a different view of history.
Can you tell us about the educational project proposed to teachers?
To accompany the release of the film, a huge call for contributions was made in Northern France among teachers of history, geography and French. The first step was to give the pupils access to the numerous testimonies collected prior to the film. This is very rich material, a living memory of the exodus which the teachers can use to build a unifying project. Each class will be able to participate, by placing the testimony of one of the pupil's family members on a dedicated website. The goal is to get over to the younger generation how important the duty of remembrance is and that of passing on knowledge, and to generate a collective and multidisciplinary work to be performed in class. Initiated by Parenthèse Cinema, this project was designed with the help of a teacher of history/geography and history of art, who drafted very comprehensive educational material with numerous proposals for activities around the film related to the theme of the exodus and connected to the school curricula.
A guide from this teacher is accessible online and includes practical instructions.
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