Wednesday, August 15, 2018

World War II France, the Holocaust, and Marguerite Duras combine in Emmanuel Finkiel's exceptional MEMOIR OF WAR

Marguerite Duras was certainly among France's most fascinating modern writers -- in terms of both her work and her life, the latter of which spanned 1914-1996. She was a prolific writer, with many of her works brought to the screen, and she was also a filmmaker of some note and even an occasional actress. Of everything TrustMovies has seen by her and about her, however, perhaps the strongest so far is the new film MEMOIR OF WAR by French filmmaker Emmanuel Finkiel, which, in its original French title, La douleur, translates simply as "the pain."

M. Finkiel (shown at right) has made a small but resonant work of art that manages to simultaneously capture a slice of World War II France under Nazi control; a very good sense of the kind of impressionistic writing at which Ms Duras sometimes excelled, as well as something of her difficult but decidedly bracing character; and most especially, I think, a clear-eyed look at the pain caused by the Holocaust -- by focusing not on the victims themselves but rather on those family members and friends who hoped against hope that their husbands/wives/ children/friends/lovers had somehow survived.

Though the star of this film is Mélanie Thierry (above), who is giving here the performance of her career (so far), for me and from this point onward, the face of The Holocaust will probably be that of the incredible actress, Shulamnit Adar, shown below, who has a major supporting role as the Jewish mother who awaits news of her handicapped daughter taken from her early in the Nazi's despicable war on humanity.

Ms Adar has a face that seems to register multiple feelings at once, each of them strong and true. What she goes through here and how she does it should imprint on your memory indelibly. The plot, such as it is, goes back and forth in time and involves Duras' husband (her married name was Antelme), his disappearance, her affair with his best friend Dionys (Benjamin Biolay, below),

and her having to chat up (and perhaps do a lot more than that) a French collaborator (Benoît Magimel, below) who may or may not be able to offer help to her imprisoned husband. The tale, as such, might not seem like much. But the manner in which the filmmaker chooses to tell is very much in keeping with the Duras style: impressionistic, elliptical, full of hesitation and the kind of self-condemnation that can easily double as self-exoneration.

Finkiel, who adapted Duras' autobiographical novel as well as directed, makes such excellent choices in terms of how much to show and how much to leave unseen, and he draws terrific performances from his cast, especially from Ms Thierry, who, as good as she has been elsewhere, has never had a role this encompassing and demanding.

How Finkiel weaves all this together so artfully yet provocatively is pretty close to brilliant. Memoir of War takes its place in the front rank of films about WWII France, the Holocaust, and a woman's sacrifices and needs.

From Music Box Films and running 127 minutes, the movie opens this Friday, August 17, in New York at Film Forum and The Film Society of Lincoln Center, and the following Friday, August 24, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal, Playhouse 7 and Town Center theaters and elsewhere, including here in South Florida at the Coral Gables Art Cinema in Miami. Over the weeks and months to come, it will play all around the country. Click here, then click on THEATERS on the task bar halfway down the screen to view all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters. 

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