French Resistance film ‘Colette’ wins Oscar for best documentary short

“Colette” tells the story of a woman from Normandy who goes on a pilgrimage to Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp in Germany, where her brother was killed during the Second World War, in the company of a young history student.

The deeply emotional 25-minute film by director Anthony Giacchino won the Oscar in the best short documentary category on Sunday night, the 92nd birthday of its protagonist Colette Marin-Catherine.

Co-produced by France’s Alice Doyard, the film follows Marin-Catherine as she sets foot in Germany for the first time since before World War II to visit the concentration camp where her brother died in 1945.

She’s accompanied by then-17-year-old Lucie Fouble, an aspiring historian researching French deportees to Dora during the war.

Colette Marin-Catherine as a teenage girl. © ColetteDocShort

The documentary project started in 2018, when Gioacchino and Doyard came across their protagonist while looking for inspirational figures from the war.

As a teenager during the Nazi Occupation of France, Marin-Catherine monitored the German soldiers’ comings and goings around Caen for the Resistance, noting the licence plates of their vehicles. Her brother Jean-Pierre, meanwhile, distributed leaflets, stashed weapons and helped Resistance members hide.

Jean-Pierre was arrested in 1943 and sentenced to forced labour in German concentration camps. He died of exaustion at Mittelbau-Dora on March 22, 1945 – 10 days after his 19th birthday.

Colette Marin-Catherine and Lucie Fouble near the crematorium at Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp. © ColetteDocShort

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Marin-Catherine had vowed never to go to Germany, but meeting Fouble changed her mind.

“There was a kind of spontaneous empathy that emerged between her and me; I literally adopted her as my granddaughter,” Marin-Catherine told FRANCE 24 in an interview from her Normandy flat just days before the ceremony.

The filmmakers proposed that they take a trip to Mittelbau-Dorn to follow in Jean-Pierre’s footsteps. Marin-Catherine agreed to go with Fouble.

“I never would have done it without this magnificent opportunity the filmmakers gave me,” Marin Catherine recalled. “Lucie was a great help to me. Thanks to her, I was able to go and see the exact place where Jean-Pierre died.”

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