Claude Miller's haunting adaptation of psychoanalyst Philippe Grimbert prize-winning novel Memory -- a fictionalized account of his Jewish family's experiences in Nazi occupied France -- is both a gripping mystery and an ever-timely reminder of the terrible power of repression and silence.
Unfolding as a series of nested flashbacks, the film begins with a now-adult Francois Grimbert (Mathieu Amalric) receiving a call from his mother, Tania (Cecile De France): Distraught after his unleashed fox terrier was struck and killed by a car, Philippe's father, Maxime (Patrick Bruel), has wandered off and been gone for hours. As he searches for Maxime father, Philippe recalls his childhood as a thin, sickly child (Valentin Vigourt) who can't to win his father's approval, and wonders about his place in what looks from the outside like the ideal French family.
A gymnast and all-around sportif, handsome Maxime obviously appreciates Tania's physical strength and blond, golden-skinned beauty -- before they married Tania worked as a fashion-house model and was a champion swimmer -- and Francois has since come to realize that his father used his athleticism as a way of erasing his "origins": Maxime's sense of his own Jewishness, which is rooted in barely disguised anti-Semitism. In 1955, seven-year-old Francois is baptized -- Maxime is sure his son's last name is printed "Grimbert" on the baptism certificate, not his own father's "Grinberg" -- but this masquerade isn't the only secret Francois senses his parents are keeping. There's that small suitcase in the attic filled with crayons, children's books and a small stuffed dog he's forbidden to play with, and the fact that Francois' fantasy of having an imaginary brother who'ss stronger, braver and better looking than he could ever be upsets his father desperately. The answer is soon offered by Louise (Julie Depardieu), an old family friend who hid from the Nazis and the gendarmes of Unoccupied France with Maxime and Tania in a small village south of the Demarcation Line. What Louise tells Francois -- and which we see in yet another flashback -- describes a heartbreaking absence surrounded by a consensual silence that shakes Francois sense of who he is.
It's a deeply resonant story, and one that struck a chord in France when Grimbert published his book in 2004. The empty space Grimbert discovers at heart of his family also lies in the soul of France -- the space left by some 75,000 Jews who were arrested and deported by the collaborationist government to be murdered in German death camps. The silence of his parents similarly stands for France's reluctance to come fully to terms with its own culpability. But rather than merely point fingers, Grimbert and Miller boldly call into account ideas of Jewish self-identity both during and after the war: When the Germans finally move into Paris, Maxime's refusal to identify himself as a Jew by wearing the yellow star isn't so much repudiation of German anti-Semitism, but a troubling acknowledgment of his own. leave a comment --Ken Fox