“La Tondue de Chartres”, on LCP National Assembly: a shot between shadow and light

Gérard Leray, historian, in the documentary “La Tondue de Chartres”, by Patrick Cabouat and Gérald Massé.


A shaved young woman, branded with a hot iron on her forehead, hugs an infant, jeered by a crowd surrounding her. Taken by Robert Capa in the streets of Chartres, August 16, 1944, the snapshot, published in the American magazine Life and soon picked up again and again, went around the world. Emblematic image of this savage purge which taints the ideal of justice proclaimed loud and clear, this violence done to the body of women, often accused of having slept with Germans.

Deciphering what is at stake in the image as much as what Simone Touseau, the young mother, embodies, the documentary by Patrick Cabouat and Gérald Massé has a double merit. First tell how the vision of this collective violence of a cruel exemplarity was fixed, then evoke a singular destiny more original than the allegory that was made of it. An exemplary lesson that will earn them the prize for filming at the Luchon Television Creation Festival in 2019.

Committed following the 7e armored division to ensure the communication of the heroic gesture of the US Army liberating France, the photographer Capa spots in the streets of Chartres, still disputed between groups of resistance fighters and occupying forces, this isolated young woman who must be reunited to other culprits. He follows her, takes the lead in the sinister procession which is growing little by little and chooses the framing which makes Simone a Virgin and Child promised to Calvary. That would suffice to say the collective violence and the intimate drama.

Sectarian Catholicism and Swastikas

But since the work of Fabrice Virgili (France “virile”. Women shaved at the Liberation, Payot, 2004), Luc Capdevila and a few others, the real situation of these hated women has become clearer and the singular destinies have been taken away from commonplaces. Starting with that of Simone Touseau, precisely. After a meticulous investigation, Philippe Frétigné and Gérard Leray gave the young woman her true face in Sheared, 1944-1947 (Vendémiaire, 2011).

Simone grew up in an environment of small conservative traders, with sectarian Catholicism, she drew swastikas on her notebooks in 1939, soon worked for the Germans as an interpreter and joined Jacques Doriot’s French People’s Party. She falls in love with a cultured soldier of the Wehrmacht, the siege of Stalingrad tears him away from her and she gives birth in the hospital, her father refusing her the family home.

When Chartres is liberated, Simone embodies these particular collaborators. But, soon, he is also accused of having denounced neighbors who ended up in deportation. Even cleared by justice, which is slow to decide to extinguish hatred, she cannot recover from this media ostracism, and twice will see her new life ruined by the memory of the old one…

The Shearing of Chartres. Documentary by Patrick Cabouat and Gérald Massé (Fr., 2017, 55 min).

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