18 October 2009

Manon needs another update

When I was about ten, in the early 1950s, my mother took me to see the 1949 French film Manon, directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. I suspect it was a private screening organised by the New England University College’s French Department. It was good growing up in a country town with a French Department – apart from getting to know some French people, we saw some great movies – Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear was another.

Manon was an update into a World War II setting of the 1731 novel Manon Lescaut, by Abbe Prevost. French resistance fighter Robert saves Manon from having her head shaved by villagers who believe she is a collaborator. Their lives are joined from then on.

The culmination of the film is that Robert and Manon flee France to make a new life in Palestine, packed onto a boatload of Jewish refugees, which needless to say has to run the British blockade and land the refugees on a lonely stretch of coast, where they are in mortal danger. We are left in no doubt that our sympathies are properly with the boat people, and the ship’s captain is not presented as “scum” or “the vilest of the vile”, far from it – it is to him that Manon and Robert confide their sad story.

We saw a bit of blockade running in the 1960s as well, when Paul Newman played the handsome young Haganah captain in the film of Leon Uris’s Exodus. It is he who organises a voyage to Palestine and outsmarts the dastardly British. No-one wishing to portray people smugglers as “scum” would cast Paul Newman in the role.

I think we need some movies about Afghan and Tamil asylum seekers. Real people, in real trouble.

Government funding might not be easy to arrange, however.

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