Guy Lodge, Variety
‘The War: A Memoir,’ Marguerite Duras’s challenging Holocaust semi-autobiography.
Finkiel has primarily built his film from two of “The War: A Memoir’s” six parts. In the first, set in the final weeks of the German occupation, the intrepid Marguerite embarks on a fraught, queasily flirtatious relationship with Nazi collaborator Rabier (Benoit Magimel), agreeing to a series of covert meetings in exchange for information about her deported husband’s whereabouts. In the second, set immediately after the Liberation of Paris, the increasingly withdrawn Marguerite waits for her morally compromising efforts to bear fruit, Antelme’s survival seeming an ever more remote possibility as scores of the formerly imprisoned return to Paris without him.
Finkiel subtly muddles the timeline between these two stages, underscoring the alienating effects of loneliness and mourning on the young writer, though they’re otherwise distinct in tone and focus. The pre-Liberation story centers on the righteous group dynamic of the Resistance, as Marguerite’s risky association with Rabier is debated, aided and closely monitored by her fellow fighters, led by smoldering firebrand Dionys (Benjamin Biolay), who would later father Duras’s child. Finkiel and cinematographer Alexis Kavyrchine trade in the elegant smoke-and-mirrors imagery of many a wartime thriller, though there’s a knowing hint of futility to the film’s genre machinations. When the Occupation ends, the comforting distractions of conspiracy and plot drain away, leaving Marguerite largely alone with her thoughts and ravaged feelings.