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Before Dunkirk there was Weekend at Dunkirk starring Jean Paul Belmondo #book2movies

My brother and I were sharing our mutual enjoyment of the film Dunkirk directed by Christopher Nolan today—I've been chatting up Nolan's The Prestige over the last couple of days—and he told me that back in the 1960's there was a French language take on the historical incident: Week-end à Zuydcoote (Weekend at Dunkirk) starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Catherine Spaak. 

The film is based on the 1949 novel of the same name by Robert Merle, and won France's highest literary prize, the Prix Goncourt. The story of a small group out of the thousands of French soldiers stuck on the coast along with the Brits as the Germans close in on all sides, the book is available in English language translation.

While it looks as though the film captures the grimness of that day—400,000 men left on the beach like sitting ducks—it also appears to have some light moments. Including a female lead (Catherine Spaak) who gets to be slapped around as well as share some affectionate and sexual moments with Belmondo.

 It is a 1960's French film, and it is Belmondo, and while I can do without the violence, I'd be disappointed if I didn't get a little male/female interaction. Did I mention the movie stars Jean Paul Belmondo?

It's been noted that Nolan can be excused for the lack of women in Dunkirk — there are a few nurses, tea ladies, even a couple of civilian boat captains but they are mostly glorified background actors. For the British director, the push pull of the male/female dynamic was not what his movie was about.

Dunkirk (2017): No sex please, we're British

I found a trailer for Weekend at Dunkirk (Week end a Zuydcoote)—sadly sans English subtitles—but I don't think you need them to get the gist of what's going on. A small group of French soldiers going through hell and trying to decide whether to evacuate with the British or stay and fight the Germans—which would mean almost certain death. The British faced no similar moral dilemmas. France, after all, was not their country.

I'd love to see the movie but it's not easy to find—more easily in France, I would imagine—but try EBay here in the states.

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  1. Sim, Wow. Intriguing. I wonder about the word Zuydecoote. Is it German? Belgian? I bet my husband would love to watch both of these and compare them. Thanks for playing along with Dreaming of France. Here’s my Dreaming of France meme

    1. Ditto.Zuydecoote certainly doesn't sound French. I looked it up and see that it's almost at the Belgium border so I expect it's either German or Dutch.

    2. About Zuydcoote (without an "e" after the "d", thanks). German, certainly not. Each country in Europe has its own distinctive culture and Germany is not even close to that part of France. Dutch...? Almost. Try Flemish. The northern part of France was once Flemish speaking (as in nearby Belgium) and all the villages and town names have kept their Flemish names. Hence Dunkerque/Dunkirk, which has a French spelling but was originally named "Duinkerken" ("Church of the sand dunes"). As for Zuydcoote, it means simply "South coast", which is kind of ironical if you consider the geographical location of this small town... But then again, you have to look the continuity of the coast between France and Belgium. The border is an artificial, and yes, Zuydcoote is actually at the southern tip of Flanders, that part of land which stretches from Northern France to the Netherlands.
      And yes, I like very much the film, closer to historical truth I believe with a more balanced view on the events, but with a strong anti-war stance.

    3. Thanks for catching my typo, I'll correct the spelling! But thanks especially for the history lesson and the info on the Flemish derivation of the name. Now that you put it in context I'm embarrassed to have suggested a German link.

  2. We all make mistakes :-) Look at me, I forgot words in my comment ("you have to look the continuity of the coast", "The border is an artificial one, and yes...")!
    The Wikipedia page on the French Flanders is accurate (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Flanders ).The information on WW2 is important to understand why people from Northern France generally view the Operation Dynamo as "the beginning of the end": "During World War II, 'French Flanders' referred to all of Nord-Pas de Calais, which was first attached to the military administration of German-occupied Belgium, then part of "Belgien-Nordfrankreich" under a Reichskommissar, and finally part of a theoretical Reichsgau of Flanders." In other words, the French Flanders (including Dunkirk area, of course) were never part of Vichy France and were ruled directly by Nazi Germany until 1945 (as Dunkirk was freed on 9 May 1945!! Yes, you got it right, one day after the Armistice was signed in Berlin). I leave to your imagination to figure out how it was like to live under a harsher regime than the rest of France during five (long) years... (Sorry for my awkward English.)

    1. Hi Valerie, thanks this is fascinating stuff. I had no idea! Not dissimilar to the conditions that the people of England's Channel Islands lived under, I imagine. Amazing how people endure and find ways to resist! We'll be seeing that of course in film version of The Guernsey Potato Peel Society movie due out next year.


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