Anchored by a brilliant Mélanie Thierry, whose stone-eyed lead performance is at the center of almost every frame, Finkiel’s film never betrays the distance that Duras inserted between herself and her own experiences, or that she wrote from the perspective of a vessel as much as she did a subject.
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There are few elements of suspense or intrigue in this drama, as it’s largely an inward journey into Duras’ agonized, shaky state of mind over the unknown whereabouts of her Resistance-member husband, Robert Anselme.
Ms. Thierry plays Marguerite with an understatement that can be enigmatic, seductive, or deliberately confounding. The picture as a whole doesn’t do justice to her committed performance.
Large as its historical canvas is, the film is most artful as an interior evocation of a preemptively grieving state of mind.
Writer/director Emmanuel Finkiel tries very hard to adapt Duras’ modernist storytelling tactics to Memoir of War and, at times, even succeeds in translating the author’s opaque blurring of the objective and the subjective.
Among its many notable achievements, Memoir of War is one of the best films I’ve seen about the ways in which grief can pull a person in both directions simultaneously. Whereas the film’s first half plays more like a thriller, the second half proves to be an emotionally wrenching interlude perched on pins and needles.
Thierry is utterly convincing and compelling from first to last, in a deglamorized but sensual performance of tautly controlled severity and uncompromising rigor.
Resolutely somber, and self-aware about its deliberately tight and opaque visual style, it’s presentational more than lived, a series of filmmaking choices instead of something deeply felt and conveyed.
The story has potential and the acting is good, but the buildup is thrown away as the movie draws to a close. It feels divided, as if it were two different films.
While clearly adoring Duras’s work, Finkiel doesn’t credit the strength it took for her to ruthlessly detail the experience.