WITH hard-hitting images of a period most French would rather forget, a controversial documentary is confronting audiences with the pro-Nazi propaganda shown in movie theaters during World War II.
"L'Oeil de Vichy" ("Vichy's Eye") by veteran filmmaker Claude Chabrol, is a two-hour montage of news clips starting with the German invasion of France in 1940 and ending with the liberation of Paris in 1944.
Moviegoing was an important diversion for the French during the Occupation, as it helped them cope with rationing, curfews, and police roundups. "Les Actualites," or news, were projected before the nightly double feature and were a main source of information. But the clips were full of untruths. The government, headed by Marshal Henri Philippe Petain, turned the footage - some supplied by Germany - into a pro-German propaganda tool.
Mr. Chabrol said when the film opened earlier this month that he was confident modern audiences could "decipher" the reality behind the purposefully misleading raw images.
"`L'Oeil de Vichy' does not show France the way we see it, but the way Petain and his regime of collaborators wanted us to see it," the film's narrator says.
Nonetheless, Chabrol has come under fire for keeping commentary to a minimum. Some critics worry that the images may be interpreted as historical truth.
"Showing, in this case, isn't sufficient," historian Henri Amouroux wrote in the conservative daily Le Figaro. "Chabrol should have thoroughly explained the terrible truth hidden behind those reassuring lies."
Others fear that the themes of Petain's "national revolution" - country, work, and family - may still appeal to those not informed or those who refuse to admit that it led to the deportation of 75,000 Jews from France. Only 2,500 returned.
"We must not underestimate the power of propaganda when it's done well," Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld said in an interview.
Chabrol said he decided to make the film after a court last year dismissed charges of crimes against humanity against Paul Touvier, a French militia henchman of Klaus Barbie, the notorious Gestapo boss.