Bastille Day

I happened on the TV coverage of Bastille Day in Paris on Channel 2. I remember my disappointment many years ago to discover that there was not a trace of the monumental prison, the focal point of the most influencial political event in the last 250 years.  Today only the name tells you where it was – Place de la Bastille. 

The storming of the Bastille

The TV programme was lengthy and impressive.  Elsewhere I imagine that one would see mere snippets of this annual parade, the biggest in Europe.

The new president, Francois Hollande, was suitably solemn in his address, his tribute to the noble past.  A young woman with flowing blonde hair and a white dress, in striking contrast to the troops, spoke with passionate conviction of the meaning of the celebrations.  This gave way to the Champs d’Elysée of parading units emerging from the Arc de Triomphe. 

Military pageantry is not on my list of favourite things, but I found myself rather intrigued.  The camera work for the repetitive sequences was impressive – crane shots; shots below the level of the boulevard; profile close ups; slow-motion.  It was  breath-taking to see, from above, three jets streaking across central Paris with the boulevards suddenly radiating from the Arc de Triomphe.

Champs Elysee, 14 July

Below, the military, naval and airforce units were marching past.  Infantry units fresh from Afghanistan; a nuclear unit; the Jägerbatilon, a German unit part of the French forces;the Foreign Legion with white capes led by a man in a huge grey spade bear – something out of the 19th-century; the 1st regiment of parachutists; the medical unit.  The list goes on.  Soldiers with shining World War 1 helmets; soldiers with de Gaulle-type képis; horses, tanks, trucks and the appreciative crowds.

The march-past

Some of the shots of the units marching were from above where the entire image is a moving mechanical pattern.  It reminded me of having seen Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will which she took of Hitler’s armies in 1935.  It is considered by some as the greatest propaganda film ever made.   Watching France’s Bastille Day, I felt confronted:  will I always have an ironic response to such images of power?  Under what circumstances will I be able to march wildly next to the soldiers, as a little boy does, lost in the pageantry?  Is it that I have a parallel response, the one that is à gauche and the other à droit?  A third response maybe, that of the dreamer, which supposes that a world without violence is possible?

Will van der Walt ©

Samedi  14 Juillet 2012

Image Sources: Bastille – & Tricolour jets –


One Response to Bastille Day

  1. Dawn D says:

    I love this….

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