Weekend at Dunkirk (1965)




Director:     Henri Verneuil.

Starring:     Jean-Paul Belmondo (Sgt. Maillat), Catherine Spaak (Jeanne), Georges Geret (Pinot), Jean-Pierre Marielle (Father Pierson), Pierre Mondy (Dhery), Marie Dubois (Helene), Francois Perier (Alexandre), Kenneth Haigh (Atkins), Ronald Howard (Robinson).

The Dunkirk story told more from the French perspective.  The English forces were given priority in the evacuation and many French soldiers had to wait impatiently on the beaches of Dunkirk for their turn and many never make it out. Glory for the British, horror for the French.  Spaak owns a home on the beach of Dunkirk, but decides to stay and help in the evacuation of the escaping troops.  One of the French soldiers (Belmondo) she befriended saves her from rape, but will they make it out when she finally decides to evacuate?




Spoiler Warning:

French soldiers sit on the railway tracks at a railroad station at Rosendall.  The Germans drop leaflets telling the French to lay down their arms for fighting will only bring them and France to ruins.  Sgt. Maillat is looking for his unit, the 13th Infantry Regiment.  He lost all contact with his regiment yesterday.  His last contact with them was southeast of Dunkirk.  He asks at the railway station what should he do?  He is told to head for Dunkirk.  The English will probably get out, but maybe the sergeant can go with them. 

Sgt. Maillat says to the other soldiers that they are trapped in a pocket and many Frenchmen will be taken prisoner at the hands of the Germans.  So the sergeant and a few of his friends decide to head for the beach at Dunkirk, which is very close to the border with Belgium.   

Samedi Matin.  (Saturday morning.) June 1, 1940.  German planes start bombing around Dunkirk.  Sgt. Maillat walks with a soldier who has to push a dead woman on a cart to the burial grounds.  They get in a tight jam when a jeep wants to get past them.  The sergeant suggests they move a parked car out of the way of a ramp so they can push the cart up the ramp.  The four men work on this task and get it done pretty fast.  There are French soldiers every where waiting to be evacuated.  They are just sitting ducks bunched together, an easy target for the Germans. 

Maillat digs up a German bomb.  He detonates it behind a large sand dune.

One of Maillat's friends gets a small wound on his hand.  The friend acts like the wound is a big deal and he wants Maillat to walk him to the hospital.  Maillat and another man take the wounded man to the hospital.  He knows ones of the doctors and asks for him in particular.  The doctor and a nurse bandage up the hand for him. The wounded man now invites the doctor and nurse to have dinner with them tonight. These friends certainly don't act like the Germans are closing in on them.  It's more like a day at the beach. 

Maillat is going to go where the ships are to see if he can get to Britain.  The Germans broadcast that French troops, having been deserted by their British friends, are now surrendering to the Germans in the 100s of thousands. 

The German airplanes start bombing and strafing again.   Maillat has to keep running and dodging the areas being bombed.  One of his friends wants to make a killing by dealing in the black market in France.  And he wants Maillat to work with the Germans for him to get key passes and such.  Maillat is not interested in making a profit from the defeat of France. 

British ships are lined up at anchor off the French coast.  The British soldiers on the beach line up for boats in order to get on the ships.  The Germans start bombing the area and the soldiers fall to the ground.  The planes strafe the area trying to kill as many soldiers as possible.  A French machine gunner actually hits one of the German planes and it goes down.  The German pilot parachutes out and the Allies wait for him to come down.  They shoot the pilot dead. 

The man in charge of getting the British troops out of France, Robinson, tells Maillat that if he still wants to ship out with the British, he has to go see Captain Clark.  Clark, however, is having his afternoon tea.  So Maillat goes to see a pretty French girl he saw before.  He goes into the house looking for her.  She asks if she can help him.  He says he came to see her.  She says but he doesn't even know her.  He says he sure does know her.  He saw her this morning during the bombing raid.  She even waved to him.  Now the woman remembers.  Her name is Jeanne.  He asks if he can wash his hands.  He has to use brackish water from the well because the water main was hit by the bombs this morning. 

Then the woman's sister comes down and Maillat gets to meet her too.  Jeanne says her sister is very glad that Maillat is here.  She's not afraid while he is here.  Artillery fire starts up.  Maillat says he's got to go find out about getting on a ship. 

The machine gunner who shot down a German plane asks Maillat to go with him to check on some nuns who may be Fifth Columnists.  So Maillat goes with him.  They find two nuns amidst the ruins of a church.  One of them is shaving her face.  The two "nuns" see the Frenchmen and start firing their weapons at them.  Then the machine gunner opens up on them and manages to hit both of the German soldiers. 

Maillat goes to see Captain Clark.  Maillat gets his pass to get on a British ship.  More Frenchmen are arriving in Dunkirk.  They look a bit discouraged. 

Maillard goes down to the beach and tries to get on board, but he is told that his pass is useless because they are only taking English troops.    The Frenchman watches as a man and his bride of only a few weeks try to take a boat and row out to an English ship. 

Maillat runs into Robinson again and he says he will get Maillat on a British ship.  So Maillat goes with Robinson.  He gets on a British ship with Robinson.  There Maillat sees the bride and groom already on the ship.  German planes drop bombs on the ship.  A bomb drops near where the bride was sitting and it looks like Robinson and the bride both died.  Maillat and the groom were off getting the bride and Robinson some tea.  Maillat has to jump off the ship and into the English Channel.  The groom Atkins stays aboard looking for his wife.  Maillat helps get a badly burned man to shore. 

Dimanche Matin.  (Sunday morning.)  June 2, 1940.  Maillat wakes up Sunday morning and finds out that the man he rescued died sometime during the night.  He goes up to where his buddies are staying and finds the priest there.  Maillat complains that God didn't intervene to stop this hell on earth that he just went through. 

Maillat returns to Jeanne's house where she is being raped by two French soldiers.  He tries to stop the two but they overpower him and knock him down the steps.  He comes back up the steps, grabs a pistol and then shoots the two men when they threaten him again.  Jeanne begs him to stay with her.  Her sister has gone to stay with a friend.  Maillat tells her she should go to the place where her sister is staying.  Jeanne says she can't leave the house unguarded.  The bombs start falling again and Jeanne and Maillat head for the cellar of the house.  Jeanne says she loves him.  She tries to seduce him and it works because they have sex together. 

Down on the beach Maillat is told that he better go see his buddy.  Maillat was going to go for water for the guys, but his buddy insisted that he would go get the water instead.  And now Maillat is alive and his buddy is dead.  That could have been Maillat laying dead by the water source.  The priest arrives.  Then comes the machine gunner.  They bury their friend in one of the beach dunes. 

Maillat goes back to see Jeanne.  Everything is locked.  He gets in through a broken window.  Jeanne is mad at Maillat and won't speak to him.  He tells her that he won't leave her.  He will change into civilian clothes and they will find somewhere to hide.  Jeanne cheers up and asks:  "And we'll get married?"  Maillat replies:  "If you want."  He promises to marry her, but it's important now that they move out of Dunkirk as almost everyone else has.  She says they will stay at the house overnight, but Maillat can't agree to that.  He tells her to meet him at the ambulance at the head of the dunes at 7 a.m.  He leaves. 

Dunkirk is about to fall to the Germans.  Jeanne has not shown up.  A soldier tells Maillat to come with them.  They are being taken out of Dunkirk by ship.  Maillat doesn't go with the soldiers. He is pretty much alone now on the beach.  Artillery shells start falling all around the beach.  The ambulance is blown to smithereens.  Maillat is wounded.  He lays on his back on the sand.  Still on his back with his head bend backward onto the wall of a bomb crater, Maillat sees Jeanne with two suitcases walking toward him.  Maillat dies. 

Dimanche Soir.  (Sunday evening.)  June 2, 1940.


Well, I didn't really think much of the movie.  The French soldiers were not taking the situation very seriously.  The hero Maillat even has time for romance.  Other soldiers have time to seek out a woman to rape.  In the Battle of Dunkirk there were 11,000 Allied dead.  40,000 Allied troops were captured.  The German spearhead reached the coast on May 20, separating the British Expeditionary Force, the French 1st Army, and the Belgian Army from the majority of French troops south of the German penetration.  The Germans threatened to capture the ports and trap the British and French forces before they could evacuate to Britain.  Then the Germans made a mistake.  They halted their forces for three days.  This gave the Allies the possibility of rescuing their stranded forces.  Over 330,000 Allied troops were rescued.  German troops entered Paris on June 14.

Wikipedia says the French are the ones who held the line while the last remaining British were evacuated. The French endured heavy German artillery fire and Luftwaffe strafing and bombs, but the French stood their ground.  The movie did not stress any of this.  It was just the French acting like sitting ducks on the beaches being constantly bombed and strafed.  This serious situation at Dunkirk is not honored by the film.  It was just a day at the beach with a few pesky bombs exploding around them.  The bombs were regarded more as a nuisance than as a dangerous situation.  

I don't recommend the movie. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 



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