Dir: Amos Gitai. France / Germany, 2008. 89mins.
The first Gitai film in a long time not to deal with Israeli politics, Later (Plus Tard Tu Comprenderas) is also one of his most emotional outings to date. This Franco-German co-production based on Jerome Clement’s autobiographical book (Clement is also president of ARTE) could be the director’s first crossover effort since Kadosh with a strong chance at moving beyond the art house and into commercial release.
Later is dedicated to Clement’s mother, a Jewish woman who married a Catholic just before the war and was thus spared deportation to the extermination camps. It displays a remarkably straightforward and frank approach to such thorny topics as remembrance and identity with Jeanne Moreau heading a cast which superbly conveys the crisis of conscience that may have first erupted after the Second World War but is still as acute today as it ever was.
Triggered by the broadcast of the Klaus Barbie trial which provides a sort of introduction and background to the first part of the film, the story is told from the perspective of Victor (Girardot), a 40-year-old Frenchman. Digging into his family’s past, he discovers a letter written by his father at the beginning of the war in which he officially declares he is of Aryan origins and that his daughter (Victor’s older sister) has been baptized in Church.
A cowardly act, in Victor’s eyes, but, as his sister Tania (Blanc) points out, it saved her life. He tries to pry more details out of his mother, Rivka (Moreau), both about his father and her own parents, a Jewish pharmacist and his wife who abandoned everything they had in Paris at the outbreak of war and hid in the country until they were denounced, ‘deported’ and never returned. Rivka will talk about anything else - the weather, the lamb she had cooked, the trinkets she buys - but evades any reference to the past.
Upset and confused, Victor takes his wife, Francoise (Devos) and their children to the village where his grandparents hid for a while. Among the old photos he finds is one of his maternal grandparents standing in front of a building which he identifies as the place his paternal grandparents lived in after the war. The obvious meaning of this is left for the audience to interpret.
Those who usually find Gitai’s film language too forbidding will be pleasantly surprised this time. Though it is shot in his usual long sequences with complicated camera flourishes, there are more cuts than normal and the picture actually gains from the fluidity of his visual language. The intensity of each encounter between Victor, whether it is with his mother, his sister or his wife, is greatly enhanced by the camera’ insistent presence.
This helps somehow to convey the emotion of what is said but also of what remains unsaid, because between the lines of Later lies the silence of Holocaust survivors and their guilt over being alive, their descendants’ need to know about the past and to find their own identity, and those acts which are impossible to forget and unbearable to mention.
Caroline Champetier’s camera, using low, minimal lighting is always on the move, bur never distracts by imposing its presence, as it so often happens. Jeanne Moreau’s expressive face and hoarse voice suggest much more than is actually being said, Hyppolite Girardot looks adequately haunted and restless as the son looking for answers his mother has never provided him with, and they are both faithfully supported by Dominique Blanc and Emmanuelle Devos, in smaller parts. Louis Sclavis’ score has just the right mixture of melancholy and pain required in this instance.
Image et Compagnie
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Marie Josee Sanselme
Based on Jerome Clement’s book
Director of photography
Emmanuel de Chauvigny