BERLIN (Reuters) - Eighty-year-old French actress Jeanne Moreau says shooting her new film about a family’s struggle to talk about the Holocaust brought back memories of her own childhood during the Nazi occupation.
“Plus Tard Tu Comprendras,” called “Later” in English, by Israeli director Amos Gitai, recounts the story of the middle-aged Victor, who tries to get his mother, played by Moreau, to talk about her childhood and her parents’ death in Auschwitz.
“It was very intense,” the petite and elegant Moreau told reporters at the Berlin Film Festival on Monday. “I was born in 1928, I went through the occupation.
“In my school, I had friends who wore the yellow star and who just disappeared. That was daily life.”
Moreau’s film character, Rivka, struggles to put the horrors of the past into words even though her son puts pressure on her.
An opening scene shows Rivka in 1987, preparing a meal while a TV broadcast is playing of the trial of Klaus Barbie, dubbed the “butcher of Lyon” and held responsible for the torture and murder of hundreds of civilians as Gestapo chief.
Rivka’s son Victor, a married father of two, follows the Barbie hearings on the radio at his office.
But as mother and son meet at Rivka’s apartment for dinner later in the day, the trial becomes a taboo issue.
“Did you listen to the news today? It was the 8th day of the Barbie trial,” Victor asks his mother.
“Look at the color of your meat. I think I managed to cook it really well today,” she replies.
Author Jerome Clement, on whose autobiographical novel the plot is based, said the film showed how different generations struggled to address certain chapters of the past.
“It’s not a story about the war. It’s a story about today. A story about silence, about how after the war, parents did not want to speak about certain things and about how we talk to our own children now,” he said after the screening in Berlin.
As Victor and Rivka are treading around the question of her parents’ horrible death, the film also touches on how the rest of French society dealt with this chapter of history.
Former French President Jacques Chirac officially acknowledged French complicity in the wartime deportation of Jews for the first time in 1995. But it took a ruling in 2001 to make it possible to sue French authorities for compensation.
Gitai said the issue of French collaboration had not featured much in French cinema so far, either.
“If this work could contribute to opening this question. It would be late, but it’s never (too) late,” he said.
Reporting by Kerstin Gehmlich; edited by Richard Meares