“Vaincre ou Die”, a film without nuance, straddling documentary and fiction

Rather than a cloak and dagger film, it is the crown and the crucifix that the Puy du Fou park presents with its first film. Win or diereleased on January 25, depicts the journey of Charrette, a noble, who became one of the leaders of the Vendeans during the Vendée war, which shook the west of France after 1789. 20 minutes investigated whether the film had historical value or was pure entertainment. The answer seems to be: neither really one, nor frankly the other…

Mainly shot at Puy du Fou, the film is singularly lacking in nuance in its historical exposition, presenting two almost monolithic blocks: the Vendeans, attached to the defense of the monarchy and Catholicism under the aegis of Rome, against the Republicans, only concerned to put down the Vendée revolt by all means. Specialist historians of the period have already demonstrated that the revolutionaries committed unprecedented violence against the civilian populations of Vendée during this war, but research has also shown that some of them condemned it.

The film begins by briefly giving the floor to three historians and a writer, suggesting that we are dealing with a documentary. Then, the film switches to cinematic narrative, no longer providing any contextualization as a documentary would. “What surprised me was that people often say that in the cinema, you have to go down in history right away, reacts to 20 minutes Anne Rolland-Boulestreau, historian specializing in the period who is one of the historians interviewed at the start of the film. There, there are our interviews and I think the public can be lost. I hope viewers will try to dig [l’histoire de la guerre de Vendée]. »

“Historians are not entertainment censors”

The professor at the University of Angers is surprised by a “mixture of wars”, because Reynald Secher, a historian who defends the thesis of a genocide in Vendée, is also questioned there. This thesis has been refuted by other specialist historians of the period.

“The problem with this film is this tension between fiction and a claim to historical truth, to documentary”, points out to 20 minutes Guillaume Lancereau, historian and co-author of Puy du Faux. “They would have to make a choice. For example, Gladiator, it’s nonsense, it doesn’t matter, it’s entertaining. Historians are not entertainment censors. On the other hand, if they want to make a documentary, they will have to be a little more serious than that. »

The characters are “pretexts for values”

For the specialist in the revolution, the objective of the film, “is that we leave with a representation of history as a space of struggle between abstract values. There, Charrette embodies honor. All the characters are empty, are pretexts for values. History can be presented as the republican/the royalist, the good/the bad, they are no longer characters. »

Guillaume Lancereau recalls that the Puy du Fou park “does not have a monopoly on the political uses of history”. “The question is how do we do it?, he continues With sincerity vis-à-vis the historical actors, what they have been, or do we do it by tackling ready-made categories? »

The “Vendée war is a divisive subject in the west of France”

For Anne Rolland-Boulestreau, Win or die “is not so much a film about the Vendée war, it’s like A people and their kingit’s not so much about the Revolution, or the Danton by Andrzedj Wadja, it’s not so much about Danton. What interests me, as a researcher, is how a film from 2023 talks about our time. »

She notes that the “Vendée war is a divisive subject in the west of France. Some still experience it in a fairly meaningful way. Why does this divide still exist, and is it embodied here through the figure of Charette? France experienced other popular revolts after the revolution, which fell into collective oblivion. “Memory does not work on its own,” emphasizes Guillaume Lancereau. It is a political project to maintain this memory. »

“Charrette’s figure is far from being consensual”

Anne Rolland-Boulestreau points out that the way Charette is viewed has evolved: “The figure of Charette is far from consensual. In the 19th century, the Church will distance itself from him and will magnify other Vendée leaders. The Church is in a period of reconquest and needs to celebrate figures who are much less controversial about morals, the relationship to the Church. Charrette still killed a priest, whom he accused of spying. An act that does not appear in the film.

Charette is a “fairly complex figure, [par son soutien] to the king, because he was harsh with his men, because he had enormous successes against the republicans, because he was criticized by the Church, all of this means that he sums up, rightly or wrongly, the complexity of the Vendée war. »

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