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By Martin Evans (eds.)

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Additional info for Empire and Culture: The French Experience, 1830–1940

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1 On the Left, however, between 1922 and 1934, papers such as L’Œuvre, Le Canard enchaîné or L’Humanité fiercely and doggedly attacked the military institution in all its aspects. However, from 1934, several events occurred which brought about a dramatic change: the realization of the true nature of Hitler’s politics, the Ethiopian crisis of 1934–6 which contributed to Mussolini’s rapprochement with Germany, and, of course, the Spanish Civil War. 2 Such a context might help to explain why, from 1934 onwards, noticeably more fiction films than before took the army as their subject.

3 At the same time, these films expressed a deep nostalgia, on the part of people who saw the rise of the Popular 41 42 Myth Conception and Misconceptions Front with grave concern, for a strong male hierarchy and a regimented society where determined and trustworthy leaders furnished a true sense of purpose. The French Foreign Legion and the popular myth The legionnaire who lived in people’s imagination was a man different from any other men, an ambiguous mix of strength and fragility, both single-minded and confused, wishing to ‘wipe the slate clean’ and yet unable to forget the past, intent on cheating death whilst morbidly fascinated by it, irresistible to women, but happiest in the company of men.

The film ends when the hero rediscovers the upper-class woman and comes to realize her hollowness and thus the emptiness of the past that haunted him. He re-enlists. His death is foretold by the grand jeu, the telling of his fortune through the cards. This particular colonial soldier is thus a passive victim of fate and not a maker of history. One might try to recuperate the interracial turmoil of the Moroccan street for colonial propaganda by suggesting that it called for the imposition of French order, but there is no positive vision of such an order to buttress such an interpretation; instead it might be suggested that the street evokes a chaotic and alienating Martin O’Shaughnessy 37 present from which there is no escape except in death.

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