French mothers

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Dutch brochure advertising the French propaganda masterpiece Mères françaises, starring Sarah Bernhardt.


Mères françaises was a very successful propaganda film, showing the war from the perspective of ordinary soldiers and their families. Made in 1916 by René Hervil and Louis Mercanton, the film starred the legendary theatre diva and fervent patriot Sarah Bernhardt in the lead role as a suffering mother and wife, who loses her loved ones.
Such films, based on traditional French bourgeois drama and American film melodramas (Abel 1992), proved to be extremely popular not only in France, but also in other belligerent and neutral countries.
In the Netherlands, the film, distributed and advertised by the Dutch film distribution company Filma, was so popular that the German embassy and consulate tried to purchase all copies in circulation to prevent further dissemination. A similar strategy was also considered with other French propaganda films, such as Henri Pouctal's Alsace (1916). Such attempts failed, but the French war melodrama Mères françaises became a landmark in film propaganda. In Germany, it stimulated the development of so-called 'secondary propaganda' that adopted a melodramatic plot with only scant reference to the war. It inspired German film-makers to develop propaganda using similar narrative patterns and dramatic settings.