SPECIAL SECTION would play interestingly with Tavernier's LAISSEZ-PASSER (2002) as a snapshot of the turmoil and treachery during the Occupation in France.
Posted by Solomon on 11/12/2015, 6:05 am
Special Section (1975)
Vichy creates a Special Court to impose unjust death sentences retroactively
Author: msroz from United States
10 November 2015
"Special Section" (1975) is a terrific movie from Costa-Gavras, showing in precise and very suspenseful detail what steps were necessary for the Vichy government to create a Special Court that would do its bidding by enforcing a retroactive law and sentence men to death unjustly. These were men who had already been tried and sentenced for minor infractions in the past and were already in prison.
The movie shows all the different persons and positions within the justice system that had to be corrupted and used in order to carry out the process of finding and executing six sacrificial "lambs" as a punishment for the death by unknown assailants of a German officer. The malleable men who did this hoped for personal gain while assuaging their consciences by various rationalizations. They told themselves that if these 6 were not guillotined, that the Nazis would execute 50-100 citizens. They told themselves that the victims were Communists and Jews. They told themselves they were supporting the Vichy government in maintaining public order. They told themselves that they were behaving in accordance with the New (Nazi) Europe, and that the Nazis would soon vanquish the Soviet Union. Some justices said "No" and refused to have anything to do with the kangaroo staged court, but others were willing. Defense lawyers had the barest of opportunities to prevent or mitigate these sentences. There was no public access to the proceedings.
The film features many fine performances from noteworthy French actors. Michael Lonsdale is the Interior Minister who sets the process in motion of creating the Court and bending the Justice Department to his (and Vichy's) will. Louis Seigner, the Minister of Justice, at first flatly refuses to accommodate Lonsdale, but that changes. He signs away on a retroactive law that creates a broad scope for charging political dissidents with capital crimes. He then recruits pliant justices and a prosecutor who know that they must deliver 6 victims. Pierre Dux is the Procureur général who keeps the process moving ahead. Bruno Cremer as one of the accused and several other character actors also make a mark.
This film appears as a neo-noir in only one list that I know of, and that one not of a critic or book writer. This is odd because the other similar films of Costa-Gavras (like "Z", "State of Siege", "Missing", and "The Confession") often appear in such lists. I classify it as a political neo-noir. The peril in this movie is widely distributed among the victims of the trial, but also is to be found among the French persecutors who are under the Nazi guns. The corruption is pervasive from start to finish of the movie and even continues in the last few frames that summarize the post-war outcome.