Saturday, December 19, 2015

Piaf, Milord and the Spy.

(Russian cultural references)

'Seventeen Moments' (screenshot)

In this sovietesque country called France, only two pleasures reconcile me with her: French women's pretty smiles and Piaf. Take away either — and there'd be nothing left in la Belle.

From as early as I can remember myself, Milord has been cheering me on — what, you're crying? come on, laugh, come on, sing! Allez, riez, milord, allez, chantez, milord! My parents got a 45 rpm single with it soon after it came out.

Non, je ne regrette rien or La vie en rose, really, aren't they, not La Marseillaise, with its hate-filled lyrics about those with 'sang impur' — impure blood, the true French anthems?

On Russian cultural references, Milord, together with Je ne regrette rien, pops up quite unpatriotically and anachronistically in the superpopular Soviet spy thriller series 'Seventeen Moments in Spring' ("Семндацать мгновений весны"). Milord was released in 1959 and Je regrette rien was written in 1956 and recorded by Piaf in 1959. The events in the 'Seventeen Moments' are unfolding during the closing months of the second world war in 1945.

In one of the scenes, the Soviet superspy, an SD Standartenführer Stierlitz aka Colonel Isayev is driving his agent Pastor Schlag to the Swiss border. In the car, they listen to Piaf on the radio.
The Pastor says, 'No, I don't like it, it's how they talk in the markets. I prefer Handel or Bach.' Stierlitz replies, 'This singer will live beyond her death, people will keep listening her.'
'You are too gracious to her,' says the Pastor.
'No, I simply love Paris. And have been in love with it for a long time,' says the Soviet spy.
After his words Je ne regrette rien kicks in with footage of the French national tricolour, de Gaulle and the Resistance fighters. The narrator explains, Stierlitz was there, watching them leave to fight on after the fall of France.'

The full 12-part series are available in full on YouTube (first episode here). For any student of Russia/Soviet Union, it's an absolute must. Most Russians know the film practically by heart and use quotes from it and references to it all the time. There are numerous anecdotes (jokes) based on the characters and situations in the film. On the surface, Tatiana Lioznova's series is gloriously patriotic, but in fact full of hidden, sometimes subversive, motives.

Here is the Alpine drive scene with Edith Piaf on the radio:


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