Robert-Hugues Lambert in Mermoz

Mermoz Movie Poster 1942

Today we remember the death of French actor Robert-Hugues Lambert, who suffered in Drancy transit camp and ultimately Buchenwald while his first film premiered in Paris.  Few great French films were produced during the Vichy period, but reportedly, Mermoz was one of them.  Unfortunately, I have been unable to track down even a French version, much less one with English subtitles.  The story of the leading man, however, was worthy of a movie of its own.  (Keep reading, that exists too).

First, we have to take a very quick look at Jean Mermoz to fully understand the scope of the story.  Mermoz was an early aviation hero in both France and Argentina and everywhere in between. In the 1920s and ’30s he was making dangerous flights from France to exotic locales like Morocco and Senegal, and eventually all the way to Brazil. This led to exciting stories, like crashing in the Sahara and being taken captive by Turegs.
He moved to Argentina and became one of the leaders of South American aviation.

The mysterious ending to his historic career lends to the story.  He was lost at sea in a situation similar to what we associate with Amelia Earhart just seven months before her.  He is worthy of a blog of his own, which I may get to someday.  Needless to say, he was an extremely well-known and popular hero with a tragic disappearance. That is exactly what sells theater tickets, even when there is a world war going on.

Robert-Hugues Lambert was a little known comedic theater actor.  He was noticed by director Louis Cuny while working on a show by the great French playwright Jean Giono. But it wasn’t Lambert’s acting that caught the eye of the director, it was his likeness to Jean Mermoz.  It’s said the mother of Mermoz was overcome with emotion when she saw Lambert. The number one feature, of course, is their wavy hair.

Now one thing to remember here is that Cuny and basically everyone working on the set are relatively new to movie making.  Although he did have several short films under his belt, this was his first major motion picture.  The real reason he even had this opportunity was because in Occupied France of 1942, Jewish film directors, producers, actors, and even crew were no longer allowed to work.  Cuny saw this as a chance to make it big.

Unfortunately, the movie was plagued with problems from the get-go, most of which had to do with inexperience.  This included the below par acting of Lambert himself, as well as difficulty with the set and crew.  With the big premiere date in Paris already set, they were under the gun to finish on time, no matter what.

In Vichy France, homosexuals were as undesirable as Jews when it came to owning or running businesses. However, in the arts it was mostly overlooked.  Poets, musicians, and actors continued on (cautiously) with their careers.  Most believe where Lambert made his mistake was his choice to become involved with a specific lover.

There is very little that is actually known, but a lot of speculation swirls around what happened next.  With just over a week of filming left, Lambert disappears.  He attended a photo shoot earlier in the day then didn’t show up for filming the next day.  The evening of the photo shoot there had been a surprise roundup at a local bar frequented by gay men. Some believe it was coincidence that he happened to be there when the Nazi arrived.  I tend to believe otherwise.

He had been in a relationship with a German officer, which of course was kept secret.  With the movie about to be released, it became more important to keep the secret.  Some speculate there was a falling out between the two (possibly over jealousy) and the officer ordered the raid.  I tend to believe that the officer was afraid he’d gotten in a bit too deep and was scared for his own career and possibly life.  Or maybe it was just a coincidence.  Regardless, Lambert was arrested, most likely for “idleness,” and transported to Drancy transit camp.

There is also a haziness about what happens next.  I’ve read a lot of articles stating that Louis Cuny and the film company did everything they could to have him released.  I find that pretty hard to believe, because in similar cases people were released relatively easily.  Of course, this would have been more complicated with the German officer boyfriend perhaps hoping to keep the relationship under cover.  But Cuny was pretty well known for not caring about his actors.  He said he learned early to treat actors just like any other workers.  Once you’re done with them, that’s it.  You don’t call a plumber after he’s fixed your faucet.

So Cuny did what was easiest, he hired someone else to finish the shooting.  No problem.  They look similar enough, the shots will all be done from behind so no one will see Henri Vidal’s face.  They may have looked alike, but they didn’t sound alike.  They needed Lambert’s voice.

Meanwhile, Robert-Hugues Lambert is forced into hard labor.  In the end, he would be in at least four different camps.  But he was in Drancy when he was passed a series of lines to say into a microphone that was lowered over the barbed wire fence on a boom.  The movie could not be completed without his voice, and time was running out before the big Paris premiere.  Believing he would be released any day, he dutifully read the lines.  The crew sent to record lines even said they would see him at the premiere.  Perhaps they all really believed they would.

On November 3, 1943, Mermoz in premiered in Paris.  Robert-Hugues Lambert is not mentioned.  In August of 1943 he is transferred to Buchenwald.  In November of 1944 he is transferred to Flossenberg to work in a brickyard.  On March 7, 1945, Robert-Hugues Lambert dies at the age of 37 of exhaustion.

It’s said that in the camps, no one called him Lambert.  To the Nazis he was 21623.  To everyone else, he was Mermoz.

Marcel Bluwal would eventually make a movie loosely based on Lambert called Le plus beau pays du monde which is sometimes translated (like on IMDB) as The Happiest Place on Earth, but seems to more closely mean “The Most Beautiful Country in the World.”  I have also had a hard time finding this movie in English.  I would be leary of viewing it as historical fiction, however, since it seems to take a lot of liberties and the majority of the characters are fictional.

Not surprisingly, I couldn’t find a painting of Robert-Hugues Lambert.  However, I thought this Mermoz movie poster was a beautiful work of art. I love the stylized stone faced depiction of Mermoz, wavy hair flowing behind him.  It contrasts so well with the simplistic sky and ocean in front of him.  It also really shows that while flying made him famous, it was his larger than life personality that made him popular.

It is a bit surprising to me that you’ll notice at the bottom under Louis Cuny you’ll see Robert-Hugues Lambert in large letters.  I wonder if they used a different poster for the premiere.  I’ve seen at least three different posters (all equally beautiful), but all do list Lambert.  One even shows his picture.

To see all three posters, click here: Mermoz posters

Read more about Vichy here:  Deportation from Vichy

To listen to a portion of the ahhhmazing score of Mermoz by Arthur Honeggar, one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, click here:  La traversée des Andes

You may also want to check out the books World Cinema and Cultural Memory by I. Hedges and The Classic French Cinema, 1930-1960 by Colin Crisp.

*Description of poster: A horizontal movie poster.  The top two-thirds of the background is a dark blue sky. A small white plane flies in the distance.  The bottom third is a lighter blue ocean with dark blue waves.  The entire left side is an all white sculptural bust profile of Jean Mermoz covering both the ocean and sky.  His long wavy hair is chiseled as if it is flowing out behind him.

Across the bottom of the poster in large black letters, Mermoz.  In smaller letters, Un Film de Louis Cuny. Below that in smaller letters still, Robert-Hugues Lambert.  Across the top, Les Productions Francaises Cinematographiques, André Tranché.*

*Description of photographs: Two black and white portraits side by side. On the left, Jean Mermoz.  On the right, Robert-Hugues Lambert.  Both men wear a suit and tie and have dark eyes and wavy hair combed back.  Mermoz gives a teethy smile.  Lambert’s smile isn’t as broad, but both men seem to smile with their warm eyes.*

 

 

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Flower of Srebrenica

Enes Klopic  Illustration  July 7, 2014

8,372, that’s the number of boys and men killed on July 11, 1995 in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina.  In a town that was supposed to be a UN safe haven during the Bosnian war, Dutch peacekeepers were unable to keep the Bosnian Serb forces from entering the city, rounding up all the men and boys (officially) over the age of 15, and executing them.  Many of them were from nearby villages that arrived in the three years preceding the genocide seeking refuge from the war. 8,372, and that does not include more than 20,000 women, children and elderly that were displaced.

Relatively short in terms of war and armed conflict in general, the Bosnian war lasted from April 6, 1992 to December 14, 1995.  By July of ’95, the end seemed imminent, and the loss of the Army of Republika Srpska under the command of General Ratko Mladic seemed a forgone conclusion.  Many believe this certainty of defeat is what lead to the mass execution of the civilian population of boys and men.  There was little to no justifiable strategic reasoning, even during war.  It was nothing short of a desperate, last-minute attempt at ethnic cleansing.

On July 6, 1995, the offensive on Srebrenica began officially.  But long before that, the Srpska understood the key to breaking the town.  It was a UN safe haven protected by Dutch peacekeepers.  Rules of war stated they could not attack the town.  So instead, they cut off supplies of food and resources.  When people left the town for supplies, the Bosnian Serbs considered these “raiding parties.”

So they used this as a justification to enter Srebrenica.  NATO forces planned to attack the artillery locations outside of town, but the VRS threatened to attack other civilian populations and kill their Dutch and French hostages.  So the Srpska entered town triumphantly.

In the days that followed, the men and boys were separated from the women.  For the most part, they were marched or trucked to wooded areas or the river and executed.  Those fleeing through the woods were often coerced back into the trucks by Serb forces wearing UN peacekeeping uniforms and helmets taken from the Dutch forces.  Not only were they thrown unceremoniously into mass graves, but the soldiers were ordered to return and move the bodies to other locations to avoid the real numbers being known.

Twenty two years later, graves are still being found.  There are now approximately 7,000 souls interred at the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial and Cemetery.  More than a thousand are still missing.  Every year on this day, July 11, more families finally have a chance to say goodbye to a son, father, brother, husband as DNA provides the evidence to ensure each person receives the proper recognition he deserves.

I encourage you to please, please learn more about the atrocities that took place such a short time ago.  I was in high school when this occurred.  This is not the ancient past, or even the memories of our grandparents.  This is our past.  Mladic was not even arrested for his war crimes until 2011.  I recommend this article in The New York Times:  Life in the Valley of DeathI also recommend this blog, but I warn you, the images are graphic.  Srebrenica Genocide.

The artwork is based on a symbol of remembrance of the genocide at Srebrenica.  Traditionally, the flower is crocheted, a popular art of Bosnia.  It was designed by the members of the association “Gracanica’s Crochet.”  The white petals signify innocence, the green center hope.  There are always eleven petals for the day, July 11.  Here is some more information about the design of the flower Flower of Srebrenica.

Enes Klopic takes this symbol, and transforms it into a beautifully haunting memorial to the lives lost.  The petals are eleven mourning women clothed in white.  They encircle a casket, covered in the traditional green Islamic covering.  Each have their right arm outstretched, touching the green cloth together, almost as one.

While most have their heads down looking at the casket, a few have their heads lifted, faces toward the skies.  But this is also the viewpoint of us, the viewer.  We are looking down from above.  The upturned faces seem to plead with us to see what they see, feel what they touch, and remember.

And one particular woman seems to stare right at you, as the viewer, although we do not see her eyes.  The mother on the top right appears to ask where you were when her child was marched away and executed, and tossed into a mass grave.  She seems to not quite accuse you, the viewer, as the perpetrator of the crime, but as a silent witness that stood by and let it happen.

Enes Klopic is a graphic designer from Bosnia who studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Sarajevo.  He now lives in Germany.  His Facebook page has a larger version of this piece, with the Srebrenica skyline at night in the foreground.  The flower is above, almost like a bright, full moon.

Read more about what the artist has to say about the work here:  Enes Klopic  (although Google Translator doesn’t seem to do a great job with Bosnian.)  I also spoke with him about the piece via Facebook to ask for his permission to post this blog.  He was very gracious and humble, saying his flower is free to share with everyone.  It is the lives of those lost we need to remember.

srebrenica casket
This photo is from the memorial service in 2010 when 775 newly identified remains were interred.   Photograph: Fehim Demir/EPA  July 11, 2010 The Guardian

I really wanted to actually list all 8,372 names here instead of just posting a link.  Unfortunately, every time I tried that, the paged locked up.  The sheer number of names locked up my whole system.  So instead, please click here Srebrenica Victims to read all of their names.

 

Bosnia
Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery                             Photo:www.skyscrapercity.com

 

 

 

 

 

Abraham and Isaac

Harold Copping  Illustration  Circa 1910

Tomorrow evening marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, one of the most important Holy days in Judaism.  In addition to the Jewish New Year, it is also a Day of Remembrance.  Celebrants remember the story of Abraham and Isaac at the alter.

Abraham was instructed by God to take his son, Isaac, to Moriah to serve as a sacfrice.  Abraham obeyed and took his son to the alter and prepared him.  However, before Abraham could perfom the sacrifice, an angel appeared.  God was satisfied with the knowledge that Abraham would have done what he asked, so he didn’t need to go through with it.

And here’s when the story gets pretty important.  The angel called out to him a second time.  Genesis 22: 16-18:

16 He said, “I have sworn by myself — says Adonai that because you have done this, because you haven’t withheld your son, your only son,17 I will most certainly bless you; and I will most certainly increase your descendants to as many as there are stars in the sky or grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants will possess the cities of their enemies, 18 and by your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed — because you obeyed my order.”

Isaac went on to be the father of Jacob, who in turn became the father of the 12 Tribes of Israel.  Abraham’s other son, Ishmael, was a prophet of Islam and an ancestor of Muhammad.  So indeed, Abraham’s descendants are many.

 

Some people may recognize this painting by Harold Copping, or at least his style.  He is one of the most popular Bible illustrators of all time.  I believe this is an illustration from The Copping Bible, which he produced in 1910.

Harold Copping worked with missionary societies and traveled to Palestine and Egypt to make his Biblical illustrations more realistic.  His painting “The Hope of the World” from 1915 is particularly popular, as it shows Jesus with children from different nationalities.

 

This painting has a much different composition than most paintings you see of Abraham and Isaac at the altar.  Copping shows Abraham looking up, probably toward the angel sent to stop him.  However, there is no angel in the painting.  Maybe this is the moment before the angel arrives and Abraham is just taking one last look, one last breath, one last hope that he won’t have to go through with it.

Also different in this painting is the positioning of Isaac.  He appears calm.  And although his legs are bound, his father’s reassuring hand rests on his chest.  The viewer doesn’t see his face.  In many paintings he is seen twisting or fighting.

Abraham is center stage.  For someone that’s in his mid-hundreds, he looks fit, strong.  But take a look at his wrists and hands.  They are my favorite part of this painting.  He grips the knife of sacrifice in his right hand, but when you look closely you see the hands of an old man.  And the juxtaposition of one hand gripping a knife and the other hand comforting his son is such a great representation of Abraham’s faith to me.  He will do what he feels needs to be done to please his God, but that doesn’t mean he’s happy about it.

Luckily for Isaac and his descendants, Abraham’s gesture was enough.  And it is this act we remember.  Shanah Tovah, happy new year!

 

Colonial Penguins

Matt D at collageOrama  Illustration  2016

Today is World Penguin Day.  Not to be confused with National Penguin Awareness Day which is in January, today is actually about penguin migration.  Traditionally, today is the day Adelie penguins return from their long migration at sea.

Check out lots of penguin facts and amazing photos here.  http://www.penguins-world.com/

Did you know a group of penguins is called a colony?  Nothing on earth is funnier to me than animals wearing clothes.  Nothing.  The only thing that can make that better is a good play on words.  They are colonial penguins.  Get it?

This awesome illustration is from one of my favorite etsy shops, collageOrama.  You can find them here:  https://www.etsy.com/listing/82908855/penguin-art-print-a-colony-of-penguins?ref=shop_home_listings

Welcome Home, Penguins!

 

 

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