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Ok, Joe!

Ok, Joe!

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After the landing of the Allied forces in 1944, writer Louis Guilloux was recruited as an interpreter for the American army. He would soon be confronted with the dark side of liberation: the rapes and murders committed by American soldiers on civilians. Guilloux’s involvement in subsequent investigations and court martial trials would expose him to the army's system of racial segregation and the selective punishment of Black American soldiers. Haunted by what he witnessed, he went on to recount this little-known side of the Allied liberation in his 1976 novel “OK, Joe!”.

Sparked by the recent reissue of Guilloux’s novel, director Philippe Baron set out through the Breton countryside to retrace this suppressed history. He finds living witnesses in his journey across Brittany, including the Tournelle family in Finistère. They recount the terrifying nighttime visits of drunken American soldiers, one of which resulted in the death of a father attempting to protect his daughter. Encouraged by military propaganda advertising the availability of “easy” French women, many American soldiers came to see sexual conquest as their right. As the memory of World War II receded and American cultural dominance rose, many victims continued to be haunted by the trauma inflicted by their ostensible liberators.

Conversations with historians Marie Louise Roberts (author of “What Soldiers Do”) and Pauline Peretz help to illuminate the racist nature of military punishment, whereby Black American soldiers became convenient scapegoats for widespread abuses, and their alleged crimes further justification for the segregation already rife in the United States military. Guilloux’s own involvement as an interpreter in the rushed court martial trials and public executions would haunt him in the years that followed. Interspersing archival footage, interviews, and scenes from modern-day Breton countryside, in OK, JOE! Baron crafts a harrowing account of the forgotten tragedies of World War II.

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