The French drama Farewell Mr. Haffmann raises the thought-provoking question of acceptable actions to survive a war time occupation.
Set in 1941, the movie tells of talented Jewish jeweller Joseph Haffmann (Daniel Auteuil) who is living in Paris under Nazi occupation.
When it becomes clear his and his family’s safety is under threat he makes arrangements to leave the city. His plan sees his wife and children leave first while he stays in Paris for a few extra days to make arrangements for his shop which is also his home.
Those arrangements involve him selling the shop to his assistant François Mercier (Gilles Lellouche) with the understanding that when the war is over, the shop is returned and Haffmann will help Mercier open his own shop. While Mercier readily agrees, his wife Blanche (Sara Giraudeau) has serious concerns.
Haffmann’s family departs safely however his escape is foiled and he’s forced to return to the shop and home where Mercier and Blanche have moved in. The three decide the basement is the safest place for him to stay.
While Mercier initially treats Haffmann with respect, given their initial employer/employee relationship, he makes greater demands as he realises the the power he has over Haffmann.
Those demands include Haffmann make the jewellery pieces that Nazi Commandant Jünger (Nikolai Kinski) requests. Junger, whose family ran a jewellery shop in Germany, becomes a regular visitor to the shop with his girlfriend and fellow officers. He also starts inviting Mercier to social events around Paris which Mercier accepts.
Believing he is sterile, Mercier also wants Haffmann to father a child with Blanche, something Blanche finds as repugnant as Haffmann. Gradually a friendship grows between Haffmann and Blanche which has major implications for the future of both men.
While Farewell Mr Haffmann is set during the war, it’s more of a psychological thriller than a war movie. Much of the action is set in the jewellery shop and its basement. Given this setting the interaction between the three main characters often gives the movie a claustrophobic feel.
Auteuil, Lellouche and Giraudeau give wonderful performances, brilliantly illustrating their characters’ changing attitudes and behaviours as the power balance shifts between the three. Lellouche’s Mercier is by far the most complex of the three characters and his actions during this engrossing movie are likely to cause the greatest debate.
Farewell Mr. Haffmann opens in cinemas on Thursday April 14.
- movie, reviews
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