"Memoir of War" Shares an Emotional and Psychological Perspective of World War II

Feb 13, 2020

Murray State Cinema International presents 2017 French film, Memoir of War, as part of its women-focused French film series. Dr. Thérèse St. Paul, director of MSU Cinema International, visits Sounds Good to discuss the psychological war film.

From IMDb:

"June 1944, France is still under the German occupation. The writer and communist Robert Antelme, major figure of the Resistance, is arrested and deported. His young wife Marguerite Duras, writer and resistant, is torn by the anguish of not having news of her husband and her secret affair with her comrade Dyonis. She meets a French agent working at the Gestapo, Pierre Rabier, and, ready to do anything to find her husband, puts herself to the test of an ambiguous relationship with this troubled man, only to be helped by him."

"[Memoir of War] is an excellent adaptation of a book written by Marguerite Duras, the famous woman writer of the 20th century," St. Paul begins. "It's a story of her life. A lot of Duras' work is part autobiographical. She wrote because of her, it was a way to negotiate emotions...she was in a state of total mental and physical trauma. She was waiting for news of her husband. Her life during this time was very dangerous."

"The book itself has two parts," St. Paul continues. "The film goes back and forth between the two. The first part - and it's extremely close to the text, I will say - is really talking about her waiting to the point of feeling sick in her body. All the way down to when her husband actually comes back. The second part is what she's trying to do, her active part, where she's trying to play a game of cat and mouse in many ways with Rabier, who is a Gestapo official."

"[Rabier] is a character that she comes to know and in a way, every time she meets him, she thinks he might arrest her. He is a very ambiguous character. He is fascinated by her because she's a writer, and she already had some notoriety at the time. She's also very pretty. She meets him to get news from her husband, possibly to get him returned, and [Rabier] plays it because he likes her company. He would like more, obviously, and she doesn't. The whole thing is very interesting and intriguing psychologically. That is a very hard thing to produce when it's written first...but I think it's quite stunning."

Memoir of War, originally titled La Deouleur (translated from French, "pain" or "hurt"), chooses not to focus on the frontlines or prison camps. Rather, the movie "actually focuses and pays tribute to the people who are left behind," St. Paul explains. "It's universal. Some people can probably relate to that to this day. Also, when a person comes back, how is the person? That also is a question here. Is it the same person who left? That you adored and you wanted and you were hoping for...you see them in person, are they the same people? There is no real big action because [the movie shows] what happens when you're under an occupation. [When] you're waiting, living letter to letter, and when you don't get any letter, what do you pin your hopes on? How do you keep on living?"

Although the original book was written by a woman, this film adaptation was directed by a man, Emmanuel Finkiel. While it could be argued that nuances of the woman's experience can be lost when adapted by a male perspective, St. Paul explains she does not believe that to be the case, but she invites the public to decide for themselves.

"Did he exaggerate? Did he not? Did he gloss over certain things? Of course, the best comparison would be if one read the book," St. Paul says. "But I can say that a lot of the passages...the dialogue...is straight out of the book. Of course, they've been selected. Was the selection a good selection? Are there issues for the public to see? Does it make sense? Does the public understand it? But again, I haven't lived through these things. It'd be interesting to talk to someone who has gone through something similar."

Memoir of War will be presented in the Curris Center Theater on the third floor of the Curris Center on Thursday, February 13th and Saturday, February 15th. Both screenings start at 7:30. Admission is free and open to the public. 

Donations to Murray State's Cinema International program can be made in person or online (if giving online, select "other" and write "Cinema International" in the comment box). For more information on the film or upcoming screenings, visit the Cinema International website