"Les Milles" is a former Provençal brick-works transformed into an internment camp in June 1940 for German, Austrian, Polish and Jews refugees... Among them, two Nobel Prize winners, artists, intellectuals. Charles Perrochon, the French commander of "Les Milles", is in charge of protecting them. But the day France signs Article 9 of the cease-fire, the government decides to hand over the refugees to the Nazis. Perrochon refuses to comply and, at the risk of being court-martialled, charters a train and a boat to try to get the refugees to Morocco.
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"In late November 1995, a French delegation attended the 2nd Shanghaï International Film Festival. My film "A Man of Duty", represented France in competition.
There were tens of thousands of people packled into the city's theatres to see films from around the world and, in particular, "our" films, which leads me to think that the omnipresence of American cinema can be avoiled in China if we react in time.
"A Man of Duty" is the story of an internment camp or foreigners in france in 1940. I was a little concerned about how they would understand this. Yet on seeing their reactions, I realized they were moved. As proof of this, Jean-Pierre Marielle was awarded the Best Actor Prize.
So why such an attachment to this film ? A Chinese filmmaker friend told me that modern China still bears the scars of the "cultural revolution". And "A Man of Duty" shows an army officer rebelling against the fate reserved for artists threatened with death. For this friend, it was obvious that the Shanghaï audience saw the film as a rehabilitation of persecuted artists.
China is definitely not a democracy but the decision to screen "A Man of Duty" was, in a certain way, the Chinese authorities way of recognizing their past mistakes.
The film's reception also showed the audience's deep-seated desire to see the country become more liberal. I couldn't have hoped for a finer tribute."