Writer-director Emmanuel Finkiel’s adaptation of writer Marguerite Duras’s 1985 semi-autobiographical novel, “War: A Memior,” based on her wartime experience, is impressively faithful to Duras’s pensive, poetic style in her extensive writing and movie directing. The tone of the film rings with authenticity.
There is also the good fortune of having Mélanie Thierry in the role of Duras, as she gives a haunting performance as the author in the tortured position of longing for her husband, who has been taken prisoner by the Gestapo during World War II and sent to Dachau.
In “Memoir of War,” set in 1944, Duras is shown belonging to a tightly-knit resistance group, as was her husband Robert Antelme. She hungers for news of him, and as prisoners begin to return, he does not. Other key characters include her husband’s friend and fellow resistance fighter Dionys (Benjamin Biolay), with whom she grows closer as time advances. There is also a very touching performance by Shalumit Adar as a woman who desperately awaits in hope for the return of her daughter from internment. Duras takes the mother in to live with her.
Duras cultivates a friendship with Nazi collaborator Rabier, played deviously by Benoît Magimel. His purpose is to get her to turn against her resistance members and supply information. Her goal is to get him to intervene in behalf of her husband. It is a precarious balancing act, but she holds her ground firmly and rejects his romantic advances.
The film is rich in poetic tone thanks to voiceovers of Duras’s thoughts taken from her novel. There is the chilling depiction of the underground tenseness and debate among Duras’s comrades over what she is doing. We also get a picture of the Nazi collaborators as they frequent the restaurants and bars while knowing that their days are numbered as the defeat of Germany is becoming inevitable.
There is a point at which one may feel that the story could be tightened, as Duras’s agony is prolonged, but the film intensifies as word comes through underground efforts to reach her husband that he is in terrible, probably fatal, shape as result of the wretched treatment of war prisoners.
How Duras copes is the capstone of the film, and Thierry’s performance continues to be deeply moving. It is a major acting performance of the year, and one comes away deeply impressed with her interpretation of Duras’s recollections. Finkiel’s film makes an indelible mark and adds importantly to the cinematic literature about France during its ordeal of occupation. A Music Box Films release. Reviewed August 13, 2018.