Saturday, January 18, 2020

Funded by Nazi Gold?

Films: Marie-Louise
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I honestly don’t know how much I’m going to be able to say about Marie-Louise. This might well be the shortest review I’ve ever written and ever will write, and that’s saying something in a world where my reviews have dropped by a couple of hundred words apiece in general. In a way, I’m rather shocked that I got to see it at all. I did, though, and with some caveats, I’ll give a review the old college try.

Honestly, there’s only one real caveat here; I couldn’t find this with English subtitles. What I got was a film that was in German and French, with German subtitles for the French parts. What this means is that while I think I got the main gist of the story, I’m going to be very light on details. I can get at least some German when I read it, but speech goes by far too quickly for me to get much from it. So, ultimately, I got something like 40% of the story during the parts that had French dialogue where I could read the subtitles and get at least a portion of them.

In a just world, even when the German language version without English subtitles was the only version available, I would be able to get at least a partial rundown on the story from a site like Wikipedia. Sadly, the only plot summary for this I could find was on Letterboxd, and as most Letterboxd summaries are, it’s pretty Spartan. In a nutshell, the story is this: when France is invaded during World War II, a young girl named Marie-Louise is evacuated to Switzerland. She stays there for most of the war, and when it is safe to go back to France, she decides she would rather stay in Switzerland. That’s literally it.

It wouldn’t surprise me if someone who was fluent in German told me that there was a great deal more going on here, but I’ll be damned if I know what it is. I think at some point someone who is important to Marie-Louise (Josiane Hegg) is killed. At least based on the body language, I think that’s what happens. A lot of the middle of the film seems to serve as a sort of travelogue for Switzerland.

But here’s the thing—I have no idea who the hell was the target audience for this film. This is a German language film made during World War II and evidently exported to Allied countries fighting Germany. Sure, it was made in neutral Switzerland, but that isn’t the kind of nuance that a lot of people are going to take the time to realize at the time. I can imagine the fury of people sitting down and listening to a movie that is in the language of one of their deepest and greatest enemies.

So is it a propaganda film? For whom? Switzerland was neutral in the war, and if it’s a propaganda film, was it one for how great neutrality was? Was it an advertisement for visiting Switzerland even while war was raging? Was it a way to preemptively tell the world that they were happy to help refugees so maybe we should be attacking them too hard for all of the hidden Nazi gold?

Honestly, I have no idea. It’s hard for me to judge this because there’s clearly a great deal of it that I didn’t get. Then again, I never expected to see any version of it, so something is better Why to watch Marie-Louise: It’s the first foreign language movie to ever win an Oscar for original screenplay.
Why not to watch: Good luck finding a copy you can understand.


  1. This doesn't help much, but I found this on Rotten Tomatoes:

    "In this Swiss film, the titular Marie-Louise is a young French lass who is evacuated to Switzerland when her country is overrun by the Nazis. Suffering a nervous breakdown, she is given shelter by a wealthy family. Unfortunately, living in the lap of luxury turns Marie-Louise into a spoiled brat."

    I tried searching French-language Wikipedia, but no dice. The entry for the film is sparser than the entry in English-language Wikipedia. There are some online "encyclopédies du cinema" that I can flip through. I'll see what I can find and report back soon.

    1. I appreciate the effort (that summary, incidentally, is the same one that appears on Letterboxd but lacks the back half of the final sentence), but I don't know that it's worth your time.

      I think I've gotten what I could from the film and I'm pretty sure I'm not going to spend a great deal of time considering it further.

      You'd get more from it than I since you'd have few issues with the French, but you'd get very little from the rest of it, I fear.

      I will say that it's the first time I've had the experience of seeing one language written, hearing a different one spoken, and thinking in a third and understanding all three versions. I have very little French, but hearing something like "c'est un cadeaux" and seeing "es ist ein Geschenk" and realizing in that brief moment I could have used either the subtitles or just listened and gotten it was an interesting experience.