This is a serious, high-minded film, but it’s also a somber one whose quiet spots too often feel not contemplative or fraught, but enervated. The movie is infused with Marguerite Duras’ words, but doesn’t have her genius.
Marguerite Duras (who died in 1996 at 81 and was well known for the novel “The Lover”) was an unconventional writer, and by all accounts she lived life unconventionally as well. “Memoir of War,” adapted from her 1985 book that was in part derived from her diaries of occupied France in World War II, depicts the writer as a young woman (Mélanie Thierry) emotionally rived by loss. But she is determined to hold on to her identity as she awaits a reunion with a husband who might not be coming home.
That husband (Emmanuel Bourdieu) was a resistance fighter, arrested and sent to a German labor camp as the Nazis were losing the war in slow motion. Marguerite allows herself to be doted on by a French intelligence officer, Pierre Rabier (Benoit Magimel), who’s working for the Germans. Pierre admires Marguerite’s writing, quoting approvingly from her first novel, “Les Impudents,” and teases her with information on her husband’s whereabouts.
Marguerite’s colleagues in a resistance cell, including one man who’s in love with her, don’t approve of her cat-and-mouse game with Pierre. All the while Marguerite questions her actions and motivations. Director and screenwriter Emmanuel Finkiel dramatizes this through a preponderance of mirror shots and sometimes goes so far as to show one Marguerite watching another in the same frame.
Thierry plays Marguerite with an understatement that can be enigmatic, seductive or deliberately confounding. The picture as a whole doesn’t do justice to her committed performance. This is a serious, high-minded film, but it’s also a somber one whose quiet spots too often feel not contemplative or fraught, but enervated. The movie is infused with Duras’ words, but doesn’t have her genius.
“Memoir of War,” with Mélanie Thierry, Benoît Magimel, Benjamin Biolay, Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet, Emmanuel Bourdieu. Written and directed by Emmanuel Finkiel, based on a book by Marguerite Duras. 127 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In French, with English subtitles. Opens Nov. 30 at Northwest Film Forum. The New York Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.