Judging Pétain - BD

Judging Pétain is a history album centered on the trial of Marshal Pétain. This comic strip is the result of concerted work between the documentary filmmaker and the designer, Sébastien Vassant, both of whom are familiar with achievements in the field of history.

With a view to legitimizing this transposition from audiovisual to comics, Philippe Saada evokes in an interview with Glénat that the codes and aesthetics of comics confer "infinite freedom compared to the filmed archive which is poor. and necessarily limits the narration. The drawing makes it possible to go wherever the camera does not go: in Pétain's head in particular. This comic, a sort of daily newspaper on the trial, by its length (132 pages), its subject and its complexity is made difficult to access to a large public, although the author has endeavored to make it fun by inserting lighter scenes like a cup of tea with Churchill (a humorous addition inserted in the continuity of the story) or even My life with the boches, a fake private diary by Pétain centered on the complex relationship that this protagonist maintained with Germany all throughout his life. The complexity of this subject is transcribed in the comics through the weight of the text compared to the images, although they are just as important. The educational and didactic content of the work does not preclude the use of a tone that is sometimes more familiar, characterized by lines of drawing playing on the alliance between realism, imagination and caricature.

The sober and austere cover of this comic, presenting Pétain in profile, reveals three important points: 1) The resemblance to a prisoner taken in profile photo today; 2) a white mustache, it is pressed on old age, senility; 3) The color "Vert de gris" which refers to a pejorative term designating the German soldiers because of the color of their uniform and referring here to the Occupation): a color present throughout the album with black and white.

The intellectual approach of this comic

These three points illustrate what the authors wanted to show through this achievement, to shed light on this trial, by trying to identify the different issues that have gone through it, whether political, judicial and media in which the central figure , Philippe Pétain, will focus all eyes. The very title of the comic calls into question the angle of analysis adopted by these authors, since it is not only a question of Pétain's judgment, the title, judging Pétain implicitly calls for questioning the outlines of this trial. , its reasons, its objectives and its results. A series of questions that lead these authors brought historical interest to this trial, supported by research work. The documentary, by a technical innovation, grafts on silent films dating from 1945, the stenographic reports produced during this trial. In the comic strip, the comments made by the protagonists of the trial are supplemented by historical comments offering a completely different approach.

The context and impact of events on collective memory

The album unfolds a historical account of the Pétain trial integrated into the context of the Liberation and the end of the Second World War. The trial of Philippe Pétain, in the appearance of a play, opened on July 23, 1945 in the context of the Franco-French civil war marked by the purification system. Throughout this trial, animated by the political passions of the time, a waltz of witnesses is responsible for testifying in favor or against Marshal Pétain, testimonies that allow us to dive back into the history of the Vichy regime. Closed on August 15, 1945, it will leave behind many mysteries that raise questions. Comics will reveal a much more complex process that has left traces in the collective memory.

Since the death of Marshal Pétain in July 1951, his name and what he has and what he represents in the eyes of the French will last through the decades until today. The simple fact that this comic exists shows a questioning, a questioning or even a concern on the part of the authors to try to understand the enigmatic Pétain, an enigma that the trial helped to create. This collective memory is structured around the opposition between the Resistance and the Collaboration, a vector of controversy, in particular on the figure of Pétain. As a result, French society regularly sees the name of Pétain reappearing within the political and intellectual class, for example on the extreme right. Jean-Marie Le Pen, in the far-right newspaper, Rivarol on April 7, 2015, said: “I never considered Pétain a traitor” but also to the left of the political spectrum. Jean Christophe Cambadélis revealed a comparison more than doubtful on May 6, 2015 in the program "Question info", making François Hollande, the "shield of France" and Manuel Valls the "sword of France". A reference which is rightly used in the defense of Marshal Pétain during this trial. This is what the historian of memory, Henry Rousso called Vichy syndrome. This permanent and relatively regular return of the face of Vichy in French public space.

In this sense, the comic book transcribes a memorial controversy on the figure of Marshal Pétain, the source of which comes from the very trial of the former Vichy chief.

What does this comic tell us?

Questions about the aspect of the trial

The authors, through the drawing, focus on the course of the trial and in particular on certain acts raising questions for people not contemporaneous with the event: The temporality of the trial is an important and essential marker for the understanding of this event that was the trial of Pétain. The trial takes place in the heart of the Liberation, in a period of emotions and a surge of passions, animated by resentment. In this scorching summer of 1945, the trial is being held without the possibility of any retreat and impartial justice for this trial. This feeling is reinforced when one looks at the judge responsible for carrying out this judgment. Mongibeaux, who holds the presidency of this judicial event, was himself responsible for accusing the representatives of the Third Republic (Reynaud, Blum ...) at the Riom trial in 1942, wanted by Pétain and the supporters of the Vichy regime . The fact that the final decision of this trial is given to a jury of 24 members composed of 12 parliamentarians and 12 resistance fighters, demonstrates once again that this trial bore the mark of political power. The facts alleged against Pétain are present in the memories of judges and public opinion. France has emerged from the war and French society is deeply marked. Spirits alive who will therefore undertake to judge Pétain but also his supporters with a view to condemning Vichy and ensuring that this regime is indeed “null and void” (De Gaulle).

Taking into account this lack of perspective during this trial, it is also striking to note that certain events are concealed voluntarily or quite simply because people have not yet taken the measure of what happened. The question of the deportation of the Jews is practically absent from the trial in particular. A point that will not be addressed until 50 years later with the speech of Jacques Chirac in 1995, recognizing the responsibility of the French state in the deportation of Jews.

This judgment therefore reveals a trial which is finally decided in advance. The shadow of De Gaulle (in the first sense of the term, the general is never represented in person, simply his shadow) hovers over this judgment. The Provisional Government of the French Republic led by De Gaulle monitored the holding of the trial, in order to control its vicissitudes and above all to avoid a fiasco for the prosecution. The government wanted through this trial to initiate the reconciliation of the French that Pétain divided. There is a desire to mark a break.

What is Pétain's real personality?

The comic strip presents Pétain as the central actor in the trial, around which revolves the action of judges, accusers and defenders, not to mention journalists and the population. However...

Pétain's silence raises questions, despite two declarations at the start of the trial which can be compared to a political testament intended for the French and at the end of this judgment, a sort of conclusion which is just as enigmatic. (On this point the comic plunges us into Pétain's head). His silence, the result of a defense strategy lasted throughout the trial, three weeks. Paradoxically, the comic book which highlights this fact presents a Pétain physically present but absent in spirit, as if he were absent from his own trial.
In addition, the authors linger both in the narration and in the drawing on the old age of the marshal. He asks the question of a lawsuit brought against an old man, victim of blackout and hard of hearing. All this questions and has helped to create an enigma around the Marshal, a mystery at the bottom of his personality. Old age has been the heart of his defense.

Even today Pétain is a figure blocked between the image of the traitor, the one who signed the armistice of June 1940 and that of the savior who would have kept France alive despite the Occupation. The question raised by the authors of this comic is Pétain's responsibility and especially his motivations. The comic faithfully transcribes the fact that the trial will obscure this question through the absence of a return on the signing of the armistice of June 1940 until the arrival of Pierre Laval when he appeared at the end. of the trial. (the latter had just been extradited from the dictatorial Spain of Franco) It is an entire part of Pétain's responsibility that this trial has not been responsible for bringing to light.

The theory of the “shield” and the “sword”, argument of the defenders of Marshal Pétain very largely contributed to confuse still a little more the image and the exact responsibility which Pétain carries during this period of Vichy.

The fact remains that the prestige of the Marshal created a dilemma. He was the winner of Verdun and the leader of Vichy. His prestige is a kind of protection. Prestige symbolized in the comics by the presence on his outfit, the military medal and his cap. A military past which is today the subject of controversy since some, on the extreme right of the political spectrum in particular, demand the displacement of the bones of Pétain to the ossuary of Douaumont to rest among the hairy people who died in 1914- 1918.

This achievement therefore allows, through the drawn boards to expose what the documentary could not show or at least not sufficiently. Thus, it clearly exposes the framework of the trial, its broad context and the ambiguities they conceal, of which the documentary could not account beyond words. Even more than the light shed on these important details, the comic book reveals the questioning of the authors and a fortiori of French society on the personality, the responsibility of Marshal Pétain and especially on the purpose of this trial which calls for a questioning as to to know if Pétain was really tried during this trial beyond the verdict.

The authors gave their work a memorial guarantee through a quote from François Mauriac (at the end of the comic) which appeared in the figaro the day after the trial was closed; the dialogue between the prosecution and the defense will continue from century to century; for all, whatever happens, for his admirers, for his adversaries, he will remain an eternally wandering tragic figure ... halfway between betrayal and sacrifice. The interest for the historian therefore seems twofold: First of all, the comic strip allows us to put on paper all the complexity of this trial, its gray areas as its truths and to revive this trial through an archive reconstituted. Behind this technical interest, there is an interest for the historian of the Memory since this comic reveals the questions of the French today on Pétain and his image through time. The title of the comic, Judging Pétain, seems to show that this trial which took place in 1945 was not finally ended in 2015.

Vichy. Pétain. French State. These words, seventy years after the fact, resonate in the news with a force that is still just as lively. The political, intellectual and media debate preserves the scar, sometimes still painful, of this historical episode which marked with a hot iron the Republic and its founding principles of freedom, equality and fraternity. This "dark phase" in the history of the French Republic is today an integral part of its political DNA and the troubled periods, agitated by economic, social and political difficulties are not long in manifesting, in the public space, the return of danger to the Republic. The incessant reminder of Vichy would like to protect the Republic and its citizens, who still seek today to understand in all its magnitude this episode and the responsibilities incumbent on the actors of this time.

SAADA Philippe & VAILLANT Sebastien, Juger Pétain, Glénat, 2015.

Video: Henri Guillemin - lAffaire Pétain intégrale des onze épisodes (January 2022).