In 1985, French philosopher and writer Marguerite Duras (1914-1996) published The War: A Memoir, a semi-autobiographical work based on journals she kept during World War II. Famously claiming those diaries had been forgotten for decades until their rediscovery in a kitchen cupboard, the Prix Goncourt-winner used them as inspiration for her novel examining the waning days of the Nazi occupation of France.
The story revolves around Duras's then-husband Robert Antelme, a fellow writer sent to a concentration camp for his involvement in a Resistance group led by François Mitterand. Duras's young protagonist is mentally tortured by a Gestapo collaborator who offers information about Antelme in return for her affections. Antelme is eventually liberated, and Duras spares no detail about the difficulties nursing him back to health. Once recovered, Duras announces that she plans to divorce Antelme to marry another member of the Resistance movement.
The spare volume is quintessential Duras; at the time of publication, critics lauded it for its brutal honesty about life in war-torn France and the complexities of love, loss, and the irony of liberation.
Now, over thirty years after its publication, The War is finding its way to the big screen. Award-winning French director Emmanuel Finkiel's adaptation entitled Memoir of War opens today at the Film Forum in New York and at The Film Society of Lincoln Center, to be followed by a national rollout in September.
Starring thirty-one year old French actress Mélanie Thierry (The Princess of Montpensier) in what may be her breakout role as a pensive, chain-smoking Duras, the first half of the film deals with Duras's relationship with Nazi collaborator, Pierre Rabier.
The second hour reveals Duras waiting and wondering, confronting the possibility that her husband is dead and what that means for her. Deftly weaving passages from the book throughout the film, Memoir of War examines the difficult choices people make in terrible times.
Memoir of War, written and directed by Emmanuel Finkiel. A Music Box Films release. Running time: 126 minutes. In French with English subtitles.
Image credit: Music Box Films