Memoir of War

Sep 30, 2018

An immersive art-house memoir of WWII. It's a work of cinematic art.

Memoir of War

Grade: A-

Director: Emmanuel Finkiel (Voyages)

Screenplay: Finkiel, from Marguerite Duras novel

Cast: Melanie Thierry (The Zero Theorem), Benoit Magimel (The Piano Teacher)

Rating: NR

Runtime: 2 hr 07 min

By: John DeSando

“In Paris, I found myself surrounded by Germans; they were all over the place. They played music, and people would go and listen to them! All along rue de Rivoli, as far as you could see from place de la Concorde, there were enormous swastika banners five or six floors high. I just thought, This is impossible.” Pearl Witherington Cornioley

While many on all sides of WWII suffered immeasurably, along with them was Marguerite (Melanie Thierry), not suffering the physical slings but emotionally tortured waiting for the return during liberation of her imprisoned resistance husband, Robert (Emmanuel Bourdieu). Memoir of War is a slow burn of waiting, expertly paralleling her longing for his return as we suffer a long but engrossing expectation with her.

Director/writer Emmanuel Finkiel, skillfully adapting the discursive Marguerite Duras novel, based on her experience, provides a linear story that simmers with desire for Robert’s return while she spurns attention from a resistance colleague, Dionys (Benjamin Biolay), and a Nazi collaborator Pierre Rabier (Benoit Magimel). Finkiel’s constant closeups of her cinematic face reveal the subtle torture she goes through as she spurns Dionys’s advances and barters with Rabier for her husband’s return.

After the Rabier sequences, the film almost exclusively centers on her turmoil of waiting until a denouement worthy of a potboiler depicting the converging conflicts of her loyalty in the face of Robert’s imminent return. The film successfully immerses us in her waiting and her conflicts, as anyone who has, for instance, endured the slow death of a loved one to a disease. I suspect that torture is similar to waiting for a prisoner to return, probably a skeleton of himself looking already close to death if not almost there already.

Memoir of War, depicting the life of an acclaimed memorist, novelist, and author of the classic Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), is not for the frequently ADD American audience (admittedly, it is too long for almost any audience); it belongs to the province of thoughtful cinephiles who love the quiet characterization of grand souls in conflict. Superhero film this is not; classic European filmmaking with a substantial heroine it is.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at