In the summer of 1942, Paris butcher and caterer Edmond Batignole (Gérard Jugnot) works hard and lives with his henpecking wife Micheline (Alexia Portal), daughter Marguerite (Michele Garcia) and her fiance Pierre-Jean Lamour (Jean-Paul Rouve), who admires the Germans. Batignole inadvertently and unknowingly is partly responsible for the deportation of his Jewish neighbour’s family, but when their young son Simon (Jules Sitruk) escapes and appears at his doorstep, he feels compelled to hide him and help him escape.
Review by Louise Keller:
This heart-warming and bittersweet story set in war-torn Paris tells the tale of a butcher who becomes an unlikely hero when he befriends a young Jewish boy. Director, producer, writer and star Gérard Jugnot admits that many of the characters he plays in his films are passive, and that much of the appeal is to allow them ‘to get tossed around’. And this is what is endearing about Monsieur Batignole’s central character, the fact that this hard-working butcher becomes an almost unwilling participant in the events that transpire, when his ambitious wife (in cahoots with her future son-in-law), report the Jewish family’s plans. It all begins when Batignole accuses the young boy, Simon of stealing a ham. This is the event that inadvertently prompts a delay in the family’s departure, resulting in their capture. Three days later, when Batignole finds the young boy at his door searching for his family, he makes a snap decision to follow his instinct and hides the tired and hungry child in the maid’s room. The scenes when Batignole runs up and down the stairs from the soiree he is hosting in his apartment for the Germans, to bring food to little Simon are almost farcical in nature, stumbling and bumbling around making nonsensical excuses for the delay in the champagne. But the heart of the story is the relationship between the man and the boy, and the longer they know each other, the more natural it seems for each to protect the other. The fact that suddenly there are three children to hide is almost incidental: the accent is always on the bond between the gruff butcher and the quick-as-a-button boy. There’s a very funny scene when Monsieur Batignole is mistaken for a surgeon (the profession of Simon’s real father) and is put to the test by a German officer who needs urgent medical attention. Jugnot cleverly mixes humour with pathos, and a scene in which we visit a warehouse where valuables and belongings of Jewish families are carefully catalogued following their removal to camps, is chillingly real. Jugnot excels as Batignole, the sharp-tongued everyman, whose circumstances force him to make choices and decisions that make him a hero, while Jules Sitruk is outstanding as Simon. Jugnot’s ultimate skill is to seamlessly blend the humour prompted by everyday situations to sit comfortably on a backdrop of drama and tragedy. The mix of laughter and tears makes for compelling cinema.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It is almost 60 years since the last world war ended and over 60 years after the setting of this story, yet another story in countless stories set in those devastating few years. Why now and what makes this story special enough after all those others and after all that time? I think the answer lies in Jugnot’s treatment of how a single family, indeed, a single man in that family, behaves when fate asks him to make a choice. For Monsieur Batignole, life changes forever when fate – in the form of a young boy – knocks on his door one evening. Until that moment, he was a collaborator, serving the German occupying forces as a caterer. His motives were no more complicated than sheer survival, and his ignorance of the full ramifications of his actions has dulled his humanity into a slumber. And even then, Batignole’s choice – to help the boy and thus expose himself top danger - is made at least as much for selfish reasons as for altruistic ones. It is the exploration of Batignole’s gradual turn around from collaborator to fully fledged resistance activist that is the heart of the film. The subtle shifts in his perception of what the German army stands for, his growing sense of justice, his warming to Simon and his better understanding of what anti-Semitism really means, are all teased out with care and great observation. This film may well be seen as a cathartic work by one Frenchman for all his countrymen, gently, humorously but truthfully confronting the thorny issue of collaboration, which has clouded Gallic pride and history nearly as badly as the success of the Nazis blotted the Germans’. It may be 60 years ago, but as Jugnot says, this is an itchy sore that just doesn’t heal.
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Favourable: 2 (Andrew, Louise)
MONSIEUR BATIGNOLE (M15+)
CAST: Gérard Jugnot, Jules Sitruk, Michèle Garcia, Jean-Paul Rouve, Alexia Portal, Violette Blanckaert, Daphné Baiwir
PRODUCER: Dominique Farrugia, Olivier Granier, Gérard Jugnot
DIRECTOR: Gérard Jugnot
SCRIPT: Gérard Jugnot, Philippe Lopes-Curval
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Gérard Simon
EDITOR: Catherine Kelber
MUSIC: Khalil Chahine
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jean-Louis Povéda
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sharmill
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney/Melbourne: June 26, 2003