Wall of Remembrance
Adapted from Jérôme Clément’s autobiographical novel-homage to his mother who lost both parents at Auschwitz, One Day You’ll Understand/Plus tard, tu comprendras opens shortly after the Jewish High Holy Days and simultaneously with a Museum of Modern Art roundtable on its veteran Israeli director Amos Gitai, part of a retrospective of his documentary work.
Late in the new fiction film, non-practicing Jew Rivka Bastien née Gornick (Jeanne Moreau) takes early teen grandchildren Louis and Esther to Yom Kippur services at a synagogue, “a symbolic, sacred place where on this Day of Atonement we honor the dead.” She gives to them what she has refused to bring up with her grown children Tania and their father Victor (Dominique Blanc, Hippolyte Girardot), that is, her past and the yellow Star of David she had to wear during Vichy and Occupation. They, she whispers, are the future and should remember always to fight against intolerance.
This is new to them, and a late turnabout in the story, for, collecting antiques and bric-a-brac in her crowded comfortable flat, the woman has steadfastly ignored questions, recently insistent from Victor, by responding with motherly concerns about health, diet and reading in the dark.
The film covers twenty years, but its characters don’t age. Mannered in camera technique, difficult in time scheme and unclear about some fates, this movie is not intended for the mainstream. It concerns family, collective and individual memory and the near impossibility of knowing, let alone coming to terms with, what actually occurred in a past that the present seeks to bury.
The 1987 trial of Gestapo “Butcher of Lyon” Klaus Barbie airs nationally, as victim Lea Katz Weiss’ testimony carries from Rivka’s TV set at home and the radio in Victor’s office. The mother abstractedly gazes from her balcony, while the son cannot focus on business, cancels an interview for the third time, and concentrates on delving into and ordering the family history hodgepodged in a box of papers and photos.
Although nowhere near their league, the film is closer to the ache of suppressed memory of The Pawnbroker than the cumulative eight-plus hours of interviewee memory in Shoah, though it does open with Victor at the Mémorial de la Shoah (catastrophe, in Hebrew), searching out and touching one of 76,000 inscribed names, presumably that of either Georges or Litva-Sipa (Daniel Duval, Denise Aron-Schropfer), his maternal grandparents. His obsession with the truth of a half-century ago is pricked by a Nazi officer’s dagger and a letter in which his father (whose destiny remains murky) declared that he is Aryan in good standing, despite his wife’s religion, and the girl Tania baptized. What did you do in the war, Daddy?
To asthmatic Tania, attracted to India and its religions, “this letter [from a father] who would [not] have done anything against mum, saved my life.” For doubting Victor, “the Bastiens, like all the French, are anti-Semitic” notwithstanding their surface acceptance of a daughter-in-law from a nationalized immigrant family of Odessa Jews who ran a pharmacy. In 1943 Rivka’s parents fled to safety in a village in the south, where, accompanied by supportive wife Françoise (Emmanuelle Devos) and the two children, Victor visits their bedroom in a wartime hotel and, in effective brief shots, imagines their being apprehended months later, “gone, as though they never existed.” The implication is that they had been betrayed—but by whom, and to save what neck?
Records and recollections of the event and its outcome are incomplete or shut away, and conclusions can be no more than that—implication, inference. Many facts about family, about parents’ deeds, misdeeds and mistakes are universally irrecoverable: in “Someday Never Comes” songwriter John Fogarty separately asks papa and mama, who smile and say, “Someday you’ll understand,” as he in turn responds to his own son. This film, too, does not clear up the protagonist’s “many things I didn’t know.” Accurate in imaging the mystery of man’s not fully knowable past, One Day You’ll Understand leaves too much distant, unsolved and confused.
(Released by Kino International; not rated by MPAA.)