“Memoir of War,” an Excruciating Wait

Memoir of War is an adaptation of a semi-autobiographical work by Marguerite Duras. It recounts the novelist’s seemingly endless wait for her husband, Robert Antelme, who was imprisoned at Buchenwald during World War II. Director Emmanuel Finkiel offers a heartrending movie which was chosen to represent France at the 2019 Oscars ceremony.

June, 1944. France is still living under Nazi occupation. Writer and leading Resistance figure Robert Antelme is arrested and deported. His wife, a young, little-known writer named Marguerite Duras, is wracked with anguish at the disappearance of her husband while also troubled by her affair with her friend Dyonis Mascolo, an active member of the resistance network led by François Mitterrand, a.k.a. Morland. She meets a French Gestapo agent named Rabier, and, seeing he is the only person who can help her, begins an ambiguous relationship with the disturbed man in a desperate attempt to find her husband. The end of the war and the prisoners’ return from the camps marks the start of an unbearable wait for Duras. A silent agony while Paris celebrates the Liberation…

Emmanuel Finkiel has masterfully adapted Duras’ work, a combination of a diary and a novel that he used as the basis for the screenplay. He delivers an intimate portrait of a deeply suffering woman who is also battling her guilt, which may also explain why she did not write the memoir until 1985. The movie successfully transposes the interiority of Duras’ writing through scenes offering a mixture of dialogue and voice- over. “I worked on the screenplay as simply as possible by rereading the book in search of the musicality of its words and the emotions it inspired in me. I made a note of the most meaningful sentences while gradually appropriating the content,” said the director at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema festival in New York. “The voice-over narration was not as present at the start. It became a fundamental part of the project as it progressed and I decided to develop the feeling of hyper- subjectivity. We find ourselves very close to what Duras was actually experiencing.”

Mélanie Thierry is back with Emmanuel Finkiel after starring in his last feature-length movie, A Decent Man, and is remarkable in the role of Duras. The rest of the cast is just as sterling, including Benoît Magimel as Rabier and Benjamin Biolay as Duras’ friend and lover Dionys.

U.S. release: August 17 (New York), August 24 (Los Angeles)
Runtime: 127 min

Director: Emmanuel Finkiel
With: Mélanie Thierry, Benoît Magimel, Benjamin Biolay
U.S. distributor: Music Box Films

=> Find all U.S. showtimes for this movie on the website FrenchFlicks.com

Article published in the August 2018 issue of France-Amérique


  • J’ai eu la chance de voir ce film dans le cadre du Festival du Film Juif de San Francisco en juillet de cette année. En effet, c’était sublime à tout point de vue. Mon mari nous a souvent parlé de l’Occupation, de l’éxode sa famille à Royan pendant la guerre etc. Hélas il nous a quitté le 25 août 1995, 51e anniversation de la Libération de Paris et à peine 15 jours après son 66e anniversaire.

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