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PostPosted: Fri Jan 19, 2024 8:59 am 
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BENOÎT MAGIMEL, VIRGINIE EFIRA IN PARIS MEMORIES

Recoverng trauma

Virginie Efira, the popular and gifted French comedy star, takes on a sadder role here, of a woman who survives a horrible Paris terrorist attack. She remembers almost nothing and in order to deal with the experience, she must recall it. So the ambiguity is intentional: to recover from the experience (if she can at all do so) she must first recover , i.e., recall, it. So the film becomes a strange sort of one-woman police procedural in search of lost time. If Mia, the character, must do so, in a sense many must, indeed perhaps the people of Paris and all of France must. So this film is a duty, collective therapy.

That makes this not a fun movie, but an obligatory one, a public service - and recovery of Paris too, the Ville Lumière: its glamor must not be lost here, and it is not. Luckily Alice Winocour, the director (known for Augustine and Disorder/Maryland and as a writer on numerous other films), writing here along with Jean-Stéphane Bron and Marcia Romano, has handled this task with exemplary restraint and taste - they embroider and romanticize only a little. Even that little may be too much, but nonetheless the result is thought-provoking, sensitive, and interesting. Even if at the end we're not left with very much, the important thing is the process. No such healing is complete and to make it so would be too pat, and false.

To begin with, the event itself, known in French as "L'attentat." This is presumably one of the attacks in Paris in November 2015, of which the largest was the attack on the Bataclan theater (which the filmmaker's own brother managed to survive), though there have been, sadly, several others. It's not specified. Mia, we learn, is an interpreter, from Russian to French at a Paris radio station. Efira took Russian lessons to do this convincingly; but her role is established in minutes. She has a partner who's a surgeon, Vincent (Grégoire Colin, in a thankless role), but no children. She goes out, but he says he has "emergency" duty at the hospital and isn't with her. She is with friends, then starts home, but then in the district known as République, stops at a crowded brasserie, because it's pouring down rain, and there, the attack occurs. Briefly, she's seated across from a man, as we learn later called Thomas (the great Benoît Magimel), who's flanked by two people, and is brought a sparkling, sputtering birthday cake, and he makes flirty eye contact with her.

Then it's all noise, chaos, and horror. We see an automatic weapon, bodies falling. We hear cries. It's quite realistic, but not very specific. Apparently the killer is there for a long time. Many hide. We see Mia on the floor, crawling somewhere. Or course we don't know what happens to her: that is the point. She is at a hospital, treated for a wound. There is a chance that it can much later be repaired cosmetically, after it heals, but the doctor warns, "we're not magicians." A telling metaphor.

Then for months Mia is outside in the country with family. We don't see much of that. Afterwards, she returns to Paris, but stays at the small apartment of a friend who is moving. Mia finds survivors meet at the restaurant on Monday mornings, and she makes connections and gets help and begins to remember things. She has blanked out everything, and realizes she must reconstruct the event in order to deal with it. She cannot be with Vincent as now she starts her recovery process. It's clear that such a trauma can break a couple; we see it happen. The other person can't understand; a wall grows up. Conversely among the victims, a powerful bond develops. Not always: one woman accuses Mia of doing something arguably mean and selfish. Though it could also just be seen as self-preservation, the accusation stings terribly, and is a motivation for Mia to find out what she really did.

Mia also connects very much with Thomas, who was severely wounded in one leg, is having a series of operations, and is on crutches or in hospital most all the time. But the main memory that emerges for Mia is that she hid in a closet for a long time with a kitchen employee who held her hand. Another impromptu couple lying down in a concealed place did nothing but kiss, thinking they would die. Some of the bonding among survivors is carried too far in the film, as if to suggest they're now suddenly all potential sex partners. Being part of a massacre doesn't feel very sexy.

We learn more about how these kinds of traumatic evens are marking experiences. We start to grasp how trauma like this changes people to the core, and how difficult it is to return to one's former life afterward. Survivors become family, or more than that. It is by painstakingly finding and reconnecting with the man who held her hand while they were hiding at the besieged brasserie that Mia comes back to life.

Some characters speak only briefly to the camera. This makes the film fragmentary, in a way, but the film strikes a good balance between a focus on the lead character and on the collective experience. Perhaps Mia's success in finding her obscure undocumented kitchen employee is a bit implausible. But watch an episode of the Netflix French investigatory series "Astrid" and you'll see this is much more humdrum. Along the way, we've learned a lot. Virginie Efira is our neutral, sympathetic guide. A lot of taste is exercised in avoiding sensationalism or sentimentality. The full force of French cinema is brought to bear. This is a deluxe treatment. Taste doesn't come easy, or cheap.

Paris Memories/Revoir Paris, 105 mins., debuted May 21, 2022 at Cannes in Directors' Fortnight releasing in Paris in September, with a warm critical reception (AlloCiné press rating: 4.0 of 80%). It showed in numerous other festivals including Toronto Rio, Palm Springs, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York (Mar. 2, 2023). Limited US theatrical release Jun. 23, 2023. Paris Memories can be watched on various platforms, and free with a subscription to Amazon Prime. Metacritic rating: 71%.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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