Vaincre ou Mourir by directors Paul Mignot and Vincent Mottez was released in French cinemas this week and spectators’ reception of the film might depend on their political views.
The movie revolves around the War of Vendée, a region that did not fully embrace the secular ideas of the French Revolution in the late 18th century. The newly founded Republican troops fought against the Catholic Royalists for over three years.
The nuances of this particular episode of the French Revolution are routinely questioned today among historians and academics, a debate that regularly spills over into French society.
The French left has been quick to denounce the movie as regressive, saying it paints a simplified vision of ‘the good royalists’ against ‘the bad republicans’.
On the other side of the political spectrum, many have applauded Vaincre ou Mourir for re-establishing a historical truth.
But in between fierce left or right wing political arguments, most cinema critics agree that the movie is … bad.
Far-right viewpoint in question
Vaincre ou Mourir is the first movie produced by Puy du Fou Films, a recent production company belonging to the theme park Puy du Fou, situated in the Vendee region.
The family-friendly theme park, reportedly France's second biggest after Disneyland, offers visitors an immersive visit inside France’s history, with characters dressed as historical figures and shows staging scenes of the past.
Some historians have denounced historical folklore and myths presented as facts, and the park's conservative reading of history.
Today’s park’s owner is French businessman Nicolas de Villiers, son of the founder and far-right political figure Philippe de Villiers. In a 2022 interview, he replied to the controversies on history and said that the park thrives on popular legends of the past.
Nicolas de Villiers argued that it's what the public is interested in, contrary to historical truth: 'our way of telling stories is met with a true success that history doesn’t get anymore, even in schools. Historians’ history does not have an audience today. It’s a pleasure to see that every year, two million people visit the Puy du Fou and are able to reconnect with a part of themselves.'
Vaincre ou Mourir’s hero, François Athanase Charette de la Contrie, known as ‘Charrette’, is a historical figure often displayed in the park. The catholic royalist also happens to be regularly pictured as martyr by the French far right, that up to this day opposes the secular and republican ideals brought by the Revolution.
The De Villiers are not the only French upper-class family that some accuse of using its influence to impose their views of France’s history and values.
In the past decade, businessman Vincent Bolloré has bought several influential sections of French media. Known for his catholic faith and boundless business appetite, his acquisition of newspapers and tv channels sparked strikes among journalists, who feared for their editorial freedom.
Bolloré still went on with his intentions, notably appointing conservative editorialists and controversial far-right figures such as Eric Zemmour as regular tv commentators.
The multi-billionaire businessman also owns the film production company Studio Canal, via his holding company Vivendi.
Incidentally, the latest movie in theatres produced by Studio Canal is Vaincre ou Mourir.