Film Review: One Day You'll Understand

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PARIS -- Any film that offers a starring role to Jeanne Moreau, probably France's greatest screen actor, is a welcome event and Amos Gitai's "One Day You'll Understand" ("Un jour tu comprendras") is no exception. This Holocaust-themed movie is impeccably mounted, intelligently played and wholly absorbing, but has a rigorous, almost cerebral quality that means that its appeal will be confined to arthouse and festival audiences.

Moreau, who also featured briefly in Gitai's previous film, "Disengagement" (2007), plays Rivka, a World War II survivor who has resolutely refused to talk about her wartime experiences, much to the chagrin of her son Victor (Hippolyte Girardot), a forty-something with demons of his own. Now, knowing death to be near and with the televised trial of Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie playing out in the background (the year is 1987), she feels the need to open up.

The story, based on an autobiography by Jerome Clement, is slight and tells us nothing that we did not already know about the fate of France's Jews during the Occupation. Proceeding by a series of long pans and tracking shots, Gitai builds the narrative slowly and deliberately, in a reflective and elliptical manner. He focuses on Victor, born just after the war and baptized a Catholic like his father, who is conscious of his Russian-Jewish heritage and tormented by the gaps in his knowledge.

The core of the film is a flashback sequence in which we see the arrest and deportation of Rivka's parents. There is also the hint of secrets withheld. But Gitai is less interested in the past than in the present, contrasting Victor's anguish with the acceptance displayed by his elder sister Tania (Dominique Blanc) and the children he shares with his non-Jewish atheist wife Francoise (Emmanuelle Devos). In the scenes that follow Rivka's death -- quiet observations of the rituals of commemoration and dispersal -- it becomes clear that the film's themes are memory and our responsibilities toward the departed.

Moreau lights up every scene in which she appears. The moment in which Rivka passes on the yellow star she was forced to wear to her grandson carries a powerful charge. Despite his plentiful use of warm elegaic yellows and browns, Gitai keeps emotions on a tight rein, an approach that will limit the movie's appeal to a broader public.

Opens: Jan. 21 (France)
Production companies: Image & Compagnie, Agav Films, France 2
Cast: Jeanne Moreau, Hippolyte Girardot, Dominique Blanc, Emmanuelle Devos, Daniel Duval, Denise Aron-Schropfer, Samuel Cohen, Mouna Soualem
Director: Amos Gitai
Screenwriters: Dan Franck, Amos Gitai, Marie-Jose Sanselme,
Based on an autobiography by: Jerome Clement
Producers: Serge Moati, Nicole Collet
Photography: Caroline Chempetier
Music: Louis Sclavis
Production design: Manu de Chauvigny
Editor: Isabelle Ingold
Sales: Roissy Films
No rating, 88 minutes