Released in 1975, “Le Vieux Fusil” was a great critical and commercial success. The film is also inspired by a dramatic historical event that occurred during the Second World War.
Le Vieux Fusil: a masterpiece of French cinema
Since his beginnings in the cinema, Robert Enrico has sometimes had trouble with censorship and criticism. Indeed, his first feature film entitled The good life, which partly deals with the Algerian War, was banned from distribution in France. In 1975, he realized what will undoubtedly be the greatest film of his career : The Old Rifle. For the occasion, he is collaborating for the second time with Philippe Noiret, a year after directing him for the first time in The secret. He especially appealed to one of the greatest actresses of his time: Romy Schneider.
The Old Rifle follows Julien Dandieu, an honest and pacifist surgeon who leads a quiet life with Clara and their daughter Florence. However, the German invasion occurs in France during the Second World War. An incident that upset Julien’s family, as well as Julien himself.
At its output, The Old Rifle creates real debates within the critics. It is true that the film clearly deals with expeditious justice, a theme very little addressed in French cinema, while it shines in the United States (via A vigilante in the city and The Last House on the Left, notably). However, this will not prevent Robert Enrico’s film from being a real critical and commercial success. He also won three Césars out of nine nominations in 1976. 9 years after his release, he was also crowned with the César des Césars, proof of his great place in French cinema.
A horrible historical fact
If the story of The Old Rifle disturbing as much, it is because it is taken from a real event that marked the history of the Second World War: the massacre of Oradour-sur-Glane.
In effect, The Old Rifle takes place in 1944, the date during which the Nazi army is in complete rout. Thus, the Germans were disconcerted by the Soviets who inflicted defeat after defeat on the Eastern front and the Americans who brought weighty support to the Allied coalition on the Western front. Not to mention that on French territory, the Nazis saw their invasion undermined by the Resistance, which constantly slowed down their progress.
Exasperated by all this, the SS Reich armored division then decides to attack the population sowing terror and death in its path. We also find references to the famous massacre of Tulle in The Old Rifle, when German soldiers walk past hanged men at the start of the film. To reduce the actions of the resistance fighters, the German army then decided to march towards the small village of Oradour-sur-Glane on June 10, 1944. The results would be monstrous: 643 dead, whether men, women or children. The village itself is totally destroyed, while the houses and other buildings are burned. The Old Rifle is therefore inspired by this drama as well as by the morbid atmosphere which remained in the Limousin following this massacre.