History and TV in France

2012 (tv) | 2014 (web)

by Pierre Sorlin

Since its beginning, in 1948, until 1982, television, in France, was a state monopoly, with one, then two (1964), eventually three (1967) channels. The first and most important channel, Tf 1 was privatised in 1987. There are, in 2007, more than 240 channels, some parts of multi-channel packages, others independent commercial stations which broadcast local information, quizzes, games, cheap American series.

The national channels are:

– Public channels gathered under the same banner, France television, but in fact independent and even competing with each other. The oldest, Fr 2 and Fr 3 are Hertzian, the newest, Fr 4 and Fr 5, are digitalised, cable channels. In addition the German-French channel Arte (1984) is partly managed by France television.

– Commercial channels, mainly Tf 1, M 6, initially a musical channel, now a general-interest one, Canal + (1984), a pay channel.

The audience share is roughly 60% for the commercial channels, with a preponderant Tf 1 (between 30 and 40 %), 4O% for the public ones.

Advertisement is limited to five minutes each hour, but the percentage is weighed up upon the whole day, no publicity is broadcast during night, the spared minutes are transferred to the peak listening hours. Public channels cannot interrupt a programme; commercial channels can make a break in the middle of any transmission

History programmes

There has never been any attempt, either from public or from private TV channels, to define the function of history programmes. Mythically, according to a watchword borrowed from the BBC, television is meant to inform and educate, but nobody has ever ventured to tell what TV was able to teach or how it could do it. With the passing of time the importance of history broadcasts, evaluated in time of screening, has been constantly decreasing. Few filmmakers or scriptwriters work in the field, but those who dare do it know each other quite well and, consciously or not, have delimited a domain and some empirical rules. There is no theory of history on television, but there are usual ways of selecting the themes and shooting which have resulted in what could be labelled a pragmatic, elementary system.

Under state monopoly history was an important heading. It consisted of history films, often followed by debates among specialists, re-enactments of famous events, illustrated talks, portraits of great people. The main history programmes were broadcast in prime time, some, in the late 1960s, when there was a choice, amounted to 80 % of the audience.

Today commercial channels have totally given up, history is considered too serious, even boring. However Canal + and M 6, which put in the air reports on ongoing issues such as the crisis in the Near East, conflicts in Africa, the new Chinese economy, insert historical references in their transmissions, mostly thanks to talks delivered by experts.

History is confined to public channels but Fr 2, second most important channel, in permanent competition with Tf 1 avoids history and so does Fr 4.

Fr 5 was initially an educational channel. It has no longer any didactic mission but the tradition of broadcasting informative programmes has not vanished. In the middle of the afternoon it broadcasts, once a week, a “light” history programme for instance about the destiny of Marilyn Monroe or the much debated plot which is said to have provoked Lady D’s deadly accident; made with recent archival material and interviews these programmes are extremely cheap. The prime time is devoted, about twice a month, to more serious inquiries about archaeological investigations (e.g.: “The Motorway which goes back in time” L’autoroute à remonter le temps, about excavations along a new motorway the course of which follows an old Roma road), about WWII (e.g.: “The survivors”, Les survivants, testimonies of Jews who survived death camps) or to retrospectives (e.g.: “The Eurovision years”, Les années eurovision, selection of programmes broadcast in Eurovision). The early night show is consecrated, once a week, to demanding series like “The Bible revealed” (La Bible dévoilée, 4 programmes), “A history of French Police” (Histoire de la police, 4 programmes), “The Great Vanished Cities” (Les grandes cites disparues, various cities in Greece and Egypt).

Fr 3 boasts a cultural ambition with literary and artistic transmissions. On the historical level it is cautious and specialises in 20th century history, with programmes likely to provoke reactions: “They had their hair cropped” (Tondues, about women whose hair was cropped in 1944 because they had had sexual intercourse with Germans), “The hidden face of the Liberators” (La face cachée des libérateurs, about violent acts, especially rapes, committed by GIs in France), “The Close Enemy” (L’ennemi intime, conscripts who served during the Algerian war report crimes and torture inflicted by the French army).

Arte gives much time to history in a rather eclectic way, jumping from antiquity (Sumer, Egypt) to our time (the Israeli athletes taken in hostage in Munich in 1972), from re-enactments (“Trafalgar”) to serious debates (“Mohamed and women”), from speculations (“Diana against Elisabeth”) to epopee (“The True History of Far West”).

History channels

There are two main historical channels:

Histoire, a subsidiary of Tf 1 founded in 1997, which boasts four million subscribers (in fact a joint subscription to the package sold by Tf 1). Aimed at people fond of light, diverting history. Buys programmes already broadcast on foreign channels and is on the lookout for something sensational: “Princess Margaret, a Love Story”, “Grace Kelly, princess of Monaco”. Mostly oriented towards recent problems, “The time of Black Market, 1940-1950”, “Penicillin, the Miracle Medicine”, “War at any Price” (La guerre à tout prix, the second Iraq war, how it was imposed on the Congress by the White House)

Toute l’Histoire, one of the 30 stations offered by AB World Com. Not much different from the previous one, slightly more serious. The schedule seems built at random, jumping from WWII in Italy to the Council of Trent, then to Mata Hari. At times, long serious documentaries, e.g. “The Epopee of the Black Gold” (4 transmissions).

Most important history programmes

I) In the years of state monopoly four series were of special importance:

– “The Camera explores Time” (La caméra explore le temps) 47 programmes broadcast between 1957 and 1966. A historian presents the programme. There is then a re-enactment of some dramatic scenes, based on contemporary documents. Most programmes referred to scandalous or dramatic cases, The Man with an Iron Mask, Maria Walewska, but there were at times less superficial themes such as “Terror and Virtue, Danton and Robespierre”. The re-enacted part was often emphatic and artificial but extremely clear and easily understood. The programme was tremendously popular. It was removed for bad reasons, because the director was a communist, but it was time to stop it at any rate.

– “Five Columns in Front Page” (Cinq colonnes à la une). A monthly News Magazine broadcast from 1959 through 1968. The first part was dedicated to recent issues, the second to political problems including historical questions: Mussolini, Stalin, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. The transmission was much appreciated but did not survive the May 68 events.

“Alain Decaux talks”(Alain Decaux raconte) Decaux was one of the historians involved in “The Camera explores Time”, after the programme was removed he tried to renew it, along the 1970s, by tackling the same sort of topics in a more light way, with interviews, short sequences based on contemporary illustrations and debates. There was a stable but limited audience, Decaux’ style looked too didactic and professorial.

There was, during the state monopoly period, what can be labelled a “history spirit”. The most popular fictional series were all set against a “historical” background, “Terry the Sling” (Thierry la Fronde, 1963-1966) during the Hundred Year’s War, “The Bitter Bread (Le pain dur, 1974-1975) along the 19th century. In these series, ordinary people resisted the oppression of bad lords and selfish masters, it was a populist vision of the past, which did not contradict the vision given in history programmes centred on famous victims of history. France was the focus of television history; spectators were invited to commiserate with the weak and sufferer.

The history spirit was confirmed by the systematic interview of historians questioned about their career during the 1970s and above all by the commission given to a famous filmmaker, Roberto Rossellini, to make a programme about “the Sun King”, Louis XIV. Rossellini stuck to the traditional image of a young, shy man who managed to subjugate a rebellious nobility and glorify the monarchy.

It must be noted that there was no reasoned historical series comparable to the fourteen part Das Dritte Reich broadcast by the German ARD in 1961-62 or to the British The Great War (1964) and World at War (1973) which means that nobody, in French television, thought over the meaning and objectives of history programmes.

II) After the monopoly.

The absence of reflection about the screened history may account, at least partially, for the radical disappearance of history from commercial channels in the 1980s. Other factors may have mattered especially the scandal around “The Sorrow and the Pity”. It was a four-hour history transmission about life in a French town during WWI produced by Swiss television. French television had scheduled it but the government forbad its broadcasting because it gave a pitiable image of the French and questioned the Gaullist legend of an unanimously resistant country. After two years the programme was put in the air but the governmental interference had been so heavy that many thought they had better not deal with recent history. In addition the conception of the transmission, with cross interviews of resistance fighters, collaborators and not committed, indifferent people was new, traditional filmmakers, used to working in studios, were not ready to adapt to such methods.

In the two last decades, history was extensively used for commemorations, it is part of the “heritage”, spectators accept it more willingly if it is related to a date, an event, a personality. The bicentennial of the first year of the French Revolution is a good example, history flooded the screens in 1989, some 120 hours of documentaries, dramatizations, and lectures dealing with the period were programmed, partly to inform, partly because the Revolution provided an exciting background for a thriller or a love story. The tribute to the past began a year earlier with for instance “A Physician of the Enlightenment” (Un médecin des Lumières) about people who paved the way for the Revolution. Then came rather didactic, not very congenial programmes such a four-hour “French Revolution” broadcast by Fr 2. Other typical cases were the anniversary of the Rome treaty in 1997 celebrated by Fr 2 in 1997 and all public channels in 2007 or the Chilean coup recorded for the anniversary of Allende’s death or in occasion of Pinochet’s arrest.

Beside celebrations, public channels broadcast programmes about historical French (Versailles, Mont St Michel) Greek (Olympia) or Egyptian monuments, history so to say. The main field remains what worries French opinion and had never been solved, WWII and the Algerian War. In 2002 an entire series, “Resistance fighters’ Memories” (Mémoires de Résistants) was devoted to systematic interviews of famous or less well-known resistance fighters, theoretically because they were old and likely to disappear but also to show, against “The Sorrow and the Pity”, that there had been many French liberty fighters. The programmes dealing with tricky periods are willingly unadventurous. Fr 3, the only daring channel, may broadcast challenging productions but its ongoing history transmission, “The Right to Assess” (Droit d’inventaire) is an innocuous mixture of talks and archive materials, which will not provoke protests or debates.

III) In the 21st century.

TV history deals with the past. A truism? Sure, but one which deserves a few remarks. Everything bygone is potentially historical, provided it is over and done with. The answer to the first question is therefore extremely simple: TV history has nothing to do with current issues, it is, and must remain irrelevant to the present days. It is not aimed at helping to understand the present and there are no lessons to be learnt from it. History is like a vast landscape, a territory many parts of which are still unexplored and mysterious. Television will contribute to solve the enigma, or at least to lift a corner of the veil. A monthly series broadcast by M 6 is titled “Topical secrets”, the typical heading of one of the film was: “Pierre Beregovoy, Mysteries around a suicide” 1 – in fact there was no mystery, the reason why this former Prime minister committed suicide are unambiguous and the programme did not disclose anything new.

“The Right to Asses” mentioned above is characteristic of such trend. It began, in October 2007, with a new historical series, “Additional Information. The right to Know” 2, the first programme of which was devoted to de Gaulle, or rather to five puzzling aspects of de Gaulle’s public life:

– How did a colonel, whose promotion to the rank of general was never official, manage to be considered the head of French resistance? (Answer: because he was “built” by Churchill);

– How did he manoeuvre to come back to power in 1958?

– Did he know that the French army was using torture in Algeria?

– Why, in Canada, did he make a public declaration in favour of an independent Quebec, creating thus a diplomatic crisis with Ottawa?

– Why was he stunned and unable to react in May 1968?

Every time, the riddle is clearly, insistently exposed. Details about the context are illustrated thanks to archival material and a witness (whose right to talk is underlined, especially in the programme I have chosen) discloses a hidden side of the topic, the importance of which is discussed and belittled by a panel of “experts”. Spectators are given the impression that they are let into the secret, but they are also warned that the matter was probably much more complicated – which leaves the way opened for other broadcasts on the same quandary.

Detective stories have always been popular in France. It was there that to the only “genre” characteristic of French cinema had its rise. TV channels have pursued in the same direction, all produce, or buy abroad, and put in the air weekly stories whose plot revolves about a police investigation. The audience is so infatuated with mysteries that writers and directors must adapt to this general tendency if they want to shoot a history film. Even the programmes devoted to Antiquity, the Middle Ages or modern times put forward and try to solve an enigma: what were the secrets of Egyptian graves, of Greek secret rites, of the Knights Templars, who was the girl who killed Marat, the revolutionary leader?

Criminal chronicles are replete with unsolved cases, superficial enquiries, and miscarriage of justice. The failures of the judicial system offer novelists a limitless supply of thrilling plots and unconventional guys. Some are inexhaustible because, with the passing of time, the direct witnesses have disappeared and the papers have been lost. They also belong, undoubtedly to the past because no judicial authority will ever reconsider them. Such instances are ideal for history broadcasting. On the one hand, they are mysterious, took place in foregone epoch, and have no connection with the present. On the other, they are traceable in cinema, radio and television archives as well as in newspapers, and there are always people who have been in contact with those who were involved in the happening.

Let us take two examples. In 1952 Sir Jack Drummond, his wife and daughter, who were travelling in southern France, were killed not far from an isolated farm inhabited by a large family. The family head, Gustave Dominici, 75 of age, confessed to the crime; there was neither motive, nor evidence, but he was declared guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. Murderer? Innocent? Nobody will ever know, which makes the story a perfect conundrum. The film broadcast in October 2003 3 “historicized” the episode. The farm, the surroundings, the police station and tribunal were reconstituted with great care. The programme was conceived to offer its public a coming back to a rural France that had long disappeared. It depicted a traditional family, lead by its patriarch 4, united against “them”, the others, and showing a cautious distrust for the outer world. It stressed the reluctance of the family members and neighbours to talk. Sociological works published in the 1960s, and now widely popularized, have emphasized the cultural distance between the representatives of authority, judges, police officers, and ordinary citizens. Today’s spectators, implicitly referring to such studies, impute the silence of the countrymen to their limited use of highbrow language. Since the middle of the 20th century secondary education has been extended to most young people, asphalted roads and cars have linked the faraway hamlets to big centres; running water, electricity, television and domestic appliances have reached rural areas. In short this film, dwelling on the archaism of 1952 France, separated clearly yesterday and today, past and present and, by comparison, stressed the (of course advantageous) changes undergone by the country.

There are few contemporary visual documents in The Dominici Affair, mostly stills taken during the process. On the other hand The Villemin Affair, put in the air in 2006 5, is based on pictures shot at the time of the investigations. The archival material correlated to the case was so abundant that the film, three times as long as The Dominici Affair, was broadcast three days on end. In October 1984 the four-year old Gregory Villemin was found drowned in a river of Lorraine. Why had he been killed? The crime gave rise to an avalanche of rumours, hypothesis, false reports, blackmail and denunciations. What matters for us is that television was one of the main actors in the play. Since 1981 commercial radios were authorized, they were a serious challenge to the three public channels, which tried to prove that they could deliver fresh, relevant information. Gossips and images kept the country in suspense during several months. There was thus a huge amount of rushes that was used for the films. Intimate scenes that had not been recorded were re-enacted, but always in a television like style, with the jolting and shaking of a camera hold on shoulder. Television channels are their own historians. By recycling their archive they spare money and they please their public which is happy to see again what it had seen ten or twenty years earlier. The Villemin Affair was a reminder of past emotions and surprises. And it was history inasmuch as it was a return to an earlier, bygone epoch.

However different they are, these two programmes share a few characteristics. They are disconnected from the time of their broadcasting, the first because it evokes a totally different context, the second because it bears no relation to any historical background. In the first case the present is appreciated since it is not like the past. In the second the past distracts momentarily from daily worries. French television, when it granted much room to history, in the 1950s and 60s, did not underline the enduring influence of former times, but it did not sever the past from the present as it is doing at the beginning of the 21st century.

How history is told

Those implicated in a criminal affair are rarely famous in history. They are more often anonymous people unwillingly mixed up in a nasty bit of business. The choice of unresolved cases, which prevents from treating the characters as either criminal or innocent, has introduced a new fashion in historical programmes. In cinema and traditional TV broadcasting the protagonists, heroes or traitors, are prominent actors, their name, printed in the credits, suffice to inform the public about the genre, and help it to take its pick. Conversely, the questionable innocents or wrong suspects are impersonated by little known players whose coming inside the screen is neither announced by other characters, nor underlined by a special framing. Usually these people been present in the frame from some time, but have remained unnoticed, when the inquirers single them out. It is thus implied that everybody can be brought to a conspicuous position, but that fame does not necessarily means bliss. In addition to reconstructed sequences, such programmes recourse extensively to real or fictional witnesses, all ordinary citizens, who have seen, o feign to have seen, something of interest. I think that we are allowed to associate the reserved, discreet presentation of the main characters, and the ephemeral attention paid to witnesses, with the growing interest for oral testimonies and life histories: the nameless prevail over the conspicuous.

Not all criminal affairs are isolated and almost clandestine misdemeanours which come to the fore because the press, or television, emphasize them. Two periods, the German occupation and the Algerian war still haunt French opinion. Both can provide myriads of odd events, unexplored circumstances, villainies and lawless occurrences. We have seen, above, an example regarding de Gaulle, a character often called to the screen. TV channels are cautious not to provoke action for libel of the part of people still alive but the danger does not exist where WWII is concerned and a great many history films deal with the enigmas of that period. The basic ingredients of such programmes and the way of linking them are very close to those implemented in the average criminal episodes mentioned above, the only significant difference relates to the characters.

Those who take part in political happenings during a war are “historic”, because the war, any war, is history. In such instance, unremarkable actors cannot impersonate the characters. However, some of these people were heroes, some played an ambiguous part, some betrayed. Televisions abide by an implicit recommendation according to which the fame of the actor determines the part he will be offered: stars will not be villains. Here again an illustration is necessary. In October 2007 Arte devoted a film to René Bousquet 6, a high civil servant who having been promoted, during the occupation, to the direction of the French police, organised with zeal and application the arrest of the Jews required by the Germans. After the liberation the man was not bothered and became an influential businessman. It is only in the 1970s that a press campaign led to a re-examination of his role. His killing by a madman prevented him from being prosecuted – and enigmas remained unsolved: why did he collaborate so actively, why was he not arrested and judged like other pre-eminent collaborationists, why was he assassinated? From a moral point of view Bousquet was not very commendable, but he had been, all his life long, an important person. The character was built according to these peculiarities. The part was given to a light-theatre actor who had never featured in cinema or television but, in the film, the previous comments of his fellows and the motion of the camera, which places him at the centre of the screen, manifest that he is the protagonist.

The fabrication of characters evidence a new trend of visual history, put into practice without having ever been exposed. Historical cinema dwelt on great people, saints, kings, political leaders, but had also a glance at humble classes that lived in past epochs. TV channels have adopted another strategy. They are interested neither in fame, nor in characteristics distinctive of former times. Looking rather for secrets, scandals, arguable cases, they give prominence either to the mystery (who was responsible for that crime?) or to the individual who caused scandal (why did he behave like that?) and they selected their actors, they insert the characters into the story in line with the type of enigma that they have privileged. The nature of the riddle determines who will perform and which shooting method will be adopted.

Together with the building of characters, enunciation (the way events are presented) is of paramount importance. In written text, historians have the initiative; they decide what is worth being exposed and commented. History films use an all-knowing voice-over, which narrates and supplies an interpretation of the facts. In both cases someone knows and tells the truth. Television, in its first decades, stuck to the cinematic fashion, an anonymous spokesperson, talking from nowhere, explained the meaning of the pictures. In respect of enunciation, television history has undergone, at the end of the 20th century, a radical transformation by passing from the statements of an omniscient instance to the interference of several voices.

Let us take, as a specimen, “Mitterand in Vichy: the shock of a revelation” 7. It is, once again, an enigma (hence the “revelation”) related to WWII. Mitterand, future president of the French republic, joined late the French resistance, after having been for three years a supporter of the Vichy regime, but he always belittled the importance of his involvement in the politics of the “Etat français”. The programme we mention opens with an interview in which Mitterand had given his version of the facts. Pictures and texts of the early 1940s set a few indisputable points: the man was assigned a role by Vichy. But what kind of function was it, and for what purpose? Witnesses chronicle what they knew at the time and what they remember. According to their indications some meetings between Mitterand and Vichy officials are re-enacted by actors. All along the film, but especially at the end, historians evoke the context and express their opinion.

We have thus, on the screen, contemporary documents, contradictory accounts delivered by the man himself and by his contemporaries, staged scenes which recreate an atmosphere and clarifications given by “experts”. No book or film could offer such a variety of conflicting judgements; it is a privilege of television because the small screen is not obliged to follow a perfectly ordered, rational trajectory, but can waver from authentic documents to fictions, from passionate assessments to reserved considerations. When the programme comes to its end no answer has been suggested, the question remains opened.

I am not pretending that this is an ideal manner of dealing with the past, the method has its flaws. First, inasmuch as they are anxious to avoid objections or critics, TV channels invite historians to play their customary part and edict, from their vantage point of view of specialists, a mixed verdict, neither white nor black. There is more. A well-balanced arrangement works perfectly where enigmas or debatable issues are concerned: Dominici was he guilty? Was Mitterand a true collaborator or a young man in search of the most honourable course? Everyone will reply in conformity with their feelings. But the study of the past cannot be limited to controversial problems, even if those may have been of importance. History deals also with more general, not contentious questions such as social evolution, economic transformations, political conflicts, and international relationships. TV channels seldom tackle these problems. When they do it, they renounce to their multifarious enunciation and have recourse to the all-knowing voice over. Where debating would be necessary, because what is at stake is the development of the modern world, doubt and pondering are banned while “truth” becomes clear and incontrovertible.

The response of spectators

I have tried to bring out the most salient features of TV history as they develop at the present moment. I must add that traditional programmes going from Stonehenge to Martin Luther King, from the ruins of Olympia to the sputniks are broadcast during the off-pick hours. Generally bought abroad (it is cheaper) such films are absent-mindedly watched by a handful of onlookers. Coherent series like the English Tudors or the American The War meet with a better response, which never exceeds four per cent of the potential audience. Yet, quantitatively, such productions constitute two thirds of what can be labelled history on television.

French channels do not broadcast “serious” films, be they fictions or history on Friday and Saturday evening. The few history programmes broadcast on prime-time are chiefly put in the air on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, when the average public amounts to some twenty five million onlookers. It must be remembered that, for the five main national channels, an audience inferior to ten per cent is considered a flop.

Measuring the impact of a programme is not easy, statistics, useful though they are, do not suffice. Films likely to interest a large public may fail because they are in competition with a sportive championship which will automatically attract a maximum of spectators, or because too much has already been broadcast on the same topic. This is what happened with the anniversary of May 1968. TV channels are intent on exploiting what their audience remembers, as soon as April 2008, they began to recall “the May movements”, so that the films put in the air in May missed their target.

More than twelve million people watched The Dominici Affair. Its broadcast was a television event, comparable only to the transmission of the most long-awaited football matches. The date had been cleverly chosen, a Monday, in the middle of October, with nothing outstanding on the other channels. Two generations felt concerned: those born before 1952 were keen on recalling their youth, while those born after, having often heard comments about Dominici’s name, wanted to be informed about his case. Such remarks do not account for an achievement that nobody had anticipated, no even the company managers, who expected less tan ten million onlookers. The main commercial channel, Tf 1, which produced the film, did not reiterate the experience. The executives of public channels know that a history programmes will never have very good ratings, at best twenty per cent of the audience, more often slightly more than ten per cent. They sponsor projects that, while focusing on an enigma, look solid and well learnt. They do it because they do not want to let down serious scriptwriters and directors but they do not count too much on such works.

Looking at the future

Let us sum up the main aspects of the French television history. All in all, little room is devoted to periods anterior to the 20th century. A first reason is the fact that nobody ever formed opinions about the function of television in the teaching and explication of the past, even in the “golden age” of state monopoly. But, at the beginning of the 21st century, another more important reason is the disinterest of a large portion of public opinion for foregone epochs which, until WWII, were considered a common, national heritage, but look now far away beyond one’s comprehension. The focus on WWII and the Algerian war is part on an internal conflict between old and newest generations, between immigrants or second-generation immigrants and French of old stock. Public television clumsily broadcasts some material on these topics but, once more, nobody is responsible for defining a planned course of reflection about the past.

In the first decade of the 21st century new tendency have emerge. Emphasis is put on individual cases, even where VIPs are concerned. The past is presented as finished but filled with unsolved enigmas that TV channels try to elucidate; the task is difficult, the only solution is to offer diversified, multifarious information. TV history seems old-fashioned; the young interested in past problems have recourse to internet and seldom watch the small screen.

France remains the centre of the world. Very little is devoted to the past of foreign countries, especially of the European ones, even on the occasion of anniversaries.. All channels dealt with May 68 but there was no special programme on Czechoslovakia or on the other places where, that very year, important events had taken place.

In such instance it is not easy to plan programmes devoted to European history. A comprehensive series intended to illustrate the main dates of the European past, in the manner, for instance, of The people’s century would not meet with a positive reaction – it is not by chance that this programme has not been broadcast in France.

Foreign history could be evoked through mysterious, debatable cases such as the burning of the Berlin Reichstag, but spectators would probably take too much interest in the police aspect of the episode and miss its political side. Anniversaries might be much more congenial. Frenchmen are fond of commemorations. These ceremonies, for them, are closely associated to the past, they are considered in the light of a return to foregone periods. Obviously a particular event, an important date, do not synthesize the history of a country, they are mere signals, they may oblige to look beyond the borders of the nation.

It is not very much but, for the time being, it seems that there is no other solution: arouse attention on the fact that the other members of the EU have a history.


1 “Secrets d’actualité. Pierre Bérégovoy: mystères autour d’un suicide”, 23 April 2008.

2 “Complément d’enquête”, Fr 3, 11 October 2007.

3 “L’Affaire Dominici”, Tf 1, 13 October 2003. Another film on the same affair had already been shot in 1973 and, no doubt, there will be other films in the future.

4 As is recalled in the film some thought that Dominici had confessed to protect another member of the family because, at his age, he could not be sentenced to death.

5 “L’affaire Villemin”, Fr 3, 28-30 0ctàber 2006.

6 “René Bousquet ou le grand arrangement” (René Bousquet or the big compromise), 16 October 2007.

7 “Mitterand à Vichy: le choc d’une révélation”, Fr 2, 22 April 2008.

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