Sometimes Holocaust survivors are not its best historians
S. Michael Bowen | Spokane, WA USA | 08/26/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Never forget," we're told -- the Holocaust isn't just a history lesson. But in *Plus Tard, Tu Comprendras,* director Amos Gitai's meditation on a family's secrets, those who know the most about the past are reluctant to convey anything about it.
In two long (and almost non-verbal) opening scenes, middle-aged Victor (Hippolyte Girardot) pores over a Shoah monument while his elderly mother, Rivka (Jeanne Moreau,* Jules et Jim*), putters around her apartment. She's listening vaguely to radio-broadcast testimony during the 1987 trial of Klaus Barbie, the Gestapo officer who, during the war, had butchered thousands of Jews.
Gitai paces the film deliberately, with a camera that skulks behind walls and lingers on the barriers (counters, desks, tables) that separate people. Guarded by their physical surroundings, parents keep their emotional distance, even from their own children. Moreau's character, gaunt with age, diverts conversations from the past: She'll happily talk about food, the weather, antiques -- anything but what happened to her Russian Jewish parents on a cold night in 1944.
Gitai's previous films, often about Israeli history, are known for their slow pacing, which arguably allows viewers time to ruminate about their meaning. Yet sometimes the languor in *One Day* seems aimless, as when a family breakfast scene overstays its welcome while dad's deciding whether or not to investigate his grandparents' past.
But the extended takes have their payoffs, too. Family arguments gain intensity from being shot in extreme close-up. Steadicam shots stay tight on Victor, increasing the suspense as he mounts the stairs in the hotel where his grandparents were arrested. And Gitai lingers on the tiny links between horrific past and questioning present: This wallpaper, the gravel out on the walkway, are the same wallpaper and gravel that his grandparents touched on the most awful night of their lives.
In a scene at a synagogue, Rivka reveals the bare minimum about her past -- not to her son, but to her grandchildren. And just like that -- with her glistening eyes rising up to the ceiling, listening to the rabbi's chant, her granddaughter's head resting on her shoulder -- Rivka will say no more. The past may be important, but it's seldom resolved."