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Memoir of War is French writer.director Emmanuel Finkiel’s adaptation of Marguerite Duras’ semi-autobiographical novella La douleur. An essential work in the literature of war, La douleur reveals Duras personal anguish as she survived in Nazi-occupied Paris, waiting for the return of her husband who’d been arrested by the Gestapo.

memoir of war posterLa douler poses special challenges to any filmmaker trying to be true its poetic, emotional, interior musings. Using Duras’ own words as his screenplay, Finkiel was more than up to the challenge of capturing Duras’ pain — the meaning of the novella’s French title.

Mélanie Thierry plays Marguerite as a tightly wound spring on the verge of snapping. She spends her days gathering information on returning soldiers and prisoners of war at Paris’ Orsay train station to publish in a newspaper she has started for people like herself —friends and relatives of the missing. Her thoughts are laser-focused on finding her husband, writer Robert Antelme (Emmanuel Bourdieu), which is how she meets Gestapo functionary Pierre Rabier (Benoît Magimel). Rabier says he can help Robert and parcels out hope and tidbits of information to the desperate Marguerite at daily meetings he arranges at locations around Paris.

These meetings tether Marguerite to reality, a place from which we see her drift in her voiceover musings on Robert’s fate and her own anguish and guilt. Finkiel concentrates on faces, particularly on Thierry’s, often blurring other images in the frame, to admit the viewer into her subjective experience and private thoughts. The duality of her feelings—helpless pain and fierce determination—come into focus in scenes where she watches herself move through her apartment, a writer looking at a subject with almost clinical interest.

Although the film contains no sex or nudity, Finkiel imbues it with sensuality. Marguerite is forever pulling on a cigarette, creating burning glows and luxurious smoke plumes. We watch her dress, and Finkiel moves over her shoulder to let us see her slip a nylon stocking over her leg. Rough stone walls, blurred images that turn figures into diaphanous shadows all create an atmosphere of dreamy tangibility that closely mirrors the atmosphere of Duras’ writing, which reflects a decidedly feminist point of view. — Marilyn Ferdinand. Read full review.

Team #MOTW’s comments:

Betsy Bozdech Featuring a gripping, emotional performance from star Melanie Thierry as Marguerite Duras, Emmanuel Finkiel’s adaptation of Duras’ semi-autobiographical WWII novel is intense and haunting. Memoir of War follows Marguerite’s experiences living in Nazi-occupied Paris during the war, clandestinely helping the resistance while living under the constant shadow of fear for her husband/fellow resistance fighter, Robert Antelme (Emmanuel Bourdieu), who was arrested by the Gestapo. Thierry makes palpable the agony of the unknown that Marguerite suffers every day, unable to move forward but unsure of what her future will hold if Robert does somehow make it home.

MaryAnn Johanson Cinema acts like stories about women in wartime are impossible to make, because women haven’t traditionally been soldiers. Not only is that not true, of course, but war isn’t only about battle: war happens on the homefront, too. I suspect that Marguerite Duras’s writing is not well served by this film — just a guess, because I have not read the book this is based on — which is never quite as emotionally engaging as it would seem to be aiming for. But its worthiness comes in the telling of untold stories about how women endure physical and psychological deprivation, separation from loved ones, and, particular to Duras’s, the relentless stress of enemy occupation and the dangerous work of hidden resistance. There could be and should be so many more stories like this one about the hidden work of women in wartime. Read full review.

Jennifer Merin Memoir of War is French writer/director Emmanuel Finkiel’s adaptation of Marguerite Duras’ semi-autobiographical novel The War: A Memoir. The haunting truth-based drama stars Mélanie Thierry as a young Duras, a woman trapped in the horrific circumstances of Nazi-occupied Paris. It’s 1944, and Duras and her husband, writer Robert Antelme, are active Resistance members. When the Gestapo arrests Antelme, Duras befriends French collaborator Rabier (Benoît Magimel) to gain information, but this puts others in her underground cell at risk. As months pass without news of her husband, Duras agonizes about Antelme’s fate. Writer/director Emmanuel Finkiel’s use of voiceover passages of Duras’ writing results in a revelatory expose of the inner psychological evolution of one of the 20th century’s most fascinating and compelling authors. The War: A Memoir was written in 1944 and first published in 1985. The book has been translated and released in over 20 countries. The film is an admirable adaptation. Women have great stories to tell on screen. Memoir of War is one of them!

Esther Iverem: With his new film, “Memoir of War” director-writer Emmanuel Finkiel achieves a fine blend of intimacy and tension as he immerses us into the world of French resistance to Nazi occupation during World War II. In her lead role as Marguerite Duras, Mélanie Thierry delivers on both the internal dialogue and the external action required to carry the story to its surprising conclusion.

Cate Marquis This is a searing tale of one woman’s experience but it is also, in some ways, a depiction of all women’s experiences in wartime. Although women now increasingly participate in combat role, historically they have been excluded and left to await news, scarce in the fog of war, and eventually the return of the men. Despite the many films about World War II, women in wartime are rarely presented as anything except peripheral figures. Read full review.


Title: Memoir of War

Directors: Emmanuel Finkiel

Release Date: August 17, 2018

Running Time: 127 minutes

Language: French with English subtitles

Screenwriter: Emmanuel Finkiel, adapted from novel by Marguerite Duras

Distribution Company: Music Box Films


Official Website

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Nikki Baughan, Anne Brodie, Betsy Bozdech, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Esther Iverem, MaryAnn Johanson, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Kristen Page-Kirby, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna, Jeanne Wolf

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Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Marilyn Ferdinand (Archived Contributor)

Marilyn Ferdinand is the founder of the review and commentary site Ferdy on Films (2005-2018) and the fundraising Love of Films: The Film Preservation Blogathon. She currently writes for Cine-File and has written on film and film preservation for Humanities magazine, Fandor, and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. She lives in the Chicago area.