THE CHILDREN OF CHABANNES
DIRECTORS and EDITORS: Lisa Gossels and Dean Wetherell
COUNTRY: USA/FRANCE 1999
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Mustapha Barat, Philippe Bonnier
MUSIC: Joel Goodman
CAST: Teachers, Historians and surviving members of Chabannes
SUPER FEATURES: Magnificent story of one of many heroic stands during WW2
While this is not a feature film at all, and showing in a Foreign Film Festival, there is one ting that this has going for it, that is subtle, imaginative and totally engrossing. The compelling beauty in this film is really the same survival instinct that has spawned so many other film directors and creative artists, whose lives had been affected and destroyed, during WW2. One might mention right off the blocks the likes of Andres Wajda, or Roman Polanski, or Volker Schlondorf, and many others, but comparing their emotional work, to this film, is something that
is difficult to bypass, and leave alone. This fine documentary film, even though it has personal connections for Director Lisa Gossels, is a whole lot more.
There is not much to say about Chabannes. Like many villages, and many other people whose stories are still untold, both horrific or simply heroic, some not so great, but no less valid in the context of things, this so special of a film, makes a track that is difficult, that is exciting, and almost makes one wonder why is it that many of these are not honored as they should be. Not so much as a group of people that saved many Jewish lives, but also as a group of people that believed in things far larger and wider than simply a who's who of a religious world. Something that is still found today, in so many places.
Chabannes, was a remote location that had the fortune of having some good teachers and a feisty and energetic school administrator, that had more passion for the same children that he supervised, and did what he could to ensure he could do well for them. And when, in the unoccupied part of France, this deteriorated with decrees that denied Jewish people a part in their daily lives amidst others, this school and many of its teachers, some of whom could have easily snitched, did more in the way of helping a lot of children, be they Jewish or not, that is still remembered fondly, and deservedly so, today. Films like this, do the one thing that allows this to be stapled as one of the many
monumental events. Saving 400 refugee children may not have sounded like many, but considering the odds and the political climate, it is a massive undertaking, that constitutes fortitude, heart, no sleep, love, and above all an astuteness of personality that must always be a step ahead of the pursuers and those in charge of making sure these things do not happen, as did a befuddled Chief of Police, who from his quotes, must have known what is going on.
Of special attention in this well written and directed film, with magnificent continuity, is the lively interviews with three or four of its instructors who were alive at the time, and still are today. Their energy and desire to do something more, was not what they were after. It was their dedication to the children alone, Jewish or not, that shows up immediately, and one can easily reminisce our own school days, today, to notice that there were a lot of instructors that have never had an inch of heart anywhere near these. The athletics instructor that made sure they all had strength where others will not. The other instructor that told them all that the cold could not beat them to win, and the other teachers that made sure that many of these boys and girls survived, against horrible odds, in a country where their livelihoods and rights had been revoked for political reasons and gains.
If there is a bit of a sad thing in this film for this reviewer, it is a personal one. I was born in 1950 in Portugal, and these kinds of films were ingrained in our minds as youngsters, and we were pretty much told a fairly good sense of right and wrong. It helped that my own father was becoming a well known name in Portuguese literature along the way, and his armada, was not exactly Jewish children, but the arts, movies, paintings, the music, that has marked the 20th century. By the time I was 10 and we had moved to brazil, we had already met, house, and fostered friends and other teachers and professors that had many connections to many events in Europe, some in various concentration camps, some involved in other resistances, and some that simply hid for a long time, and fought their own war. Their stories, like this one at Chabannes, still remains vivid in my heart and mind, and still the most scary part for me to tackle. It is not a fear, it is not a love, it is not a life. It is something that people raised under the mantle of a Walt Disney, and a yellow brick road, have a hard time understanding, or really having much compassion for. Their guilt is only measured in the acceptance of a Spielberg film or two, not in the people around them. I have found that day in and out, many of the people around me, are far too distant to have any sort of direct knowledge (and mine is indirect) about these things and what they constitute to one's life. Vietnam came close, but the denial of what happened then, or understanding of what it has done for many lives, is not any different for me. People around me still play war games in their life, and play war games in their computers as if nothing mattered and it was fun. Quake and Doom and Half-Life still rule. I, personally, have never enjoyed that attitude, since my own family was involved in the war in these endeavors, still unspoken to this day, while they were under a Fascist government not unlike the one in Spain. And I still do not know what it is they did ... probably never will.
It is wonderful to see that there are believers in the true human spirit, that knows and understands that war is sick, and that people make a difference. I wish I could say the same thing to many others today, who still engage in conflicts with their neighbors, petty materialistic crap that has so little to do with real life, that turns into sad destruction for others. I imagine this to be a fault in the internal constitution that has room for a God in a book, but no action in one's heart. If anything, the thrust of this film, which can hardly be measured in the scale of human
dignity -- the one that is least discussed -- is that the future is always in our hands, and that those who are most innocent are the ones that will need it, and will have to live in it.
Magnificent film, about something that many of us will never experience, or fully understand. Well done, Lisa Gossels.
5 of 5 GIBLOONS
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