Farewell, Mr Haffmann (2021)

January 13th, 2022
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Fred Cavaye | Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Gilles Lellouche, Sara Giraudeau | France, Drama 115′

Daniel Auteuil is the quietly mesmerising star turn in Fred Cavaye’s sombre but satisfying occupation drama that sees a Jewish craftsman’s act of benevolence backfire with tragic consequences.

He is Monsieur Hoffmann a popular and talented jeweller with a live-in corner atelier in Montmartre when the Germans move into Paris in 1941 setting in motion a mass exodus of Jews and the rounding up of those unable to get away. Seeing a chance to escape and save his business, by transferring it to his  crippled (and it soon turns out impotent) assistant Francois Mercier (Lellouche), he sends his wife and family to the country, but is unable to get away in time and is forced back to take refuge in the basement of his former home, now occupied by Mercier and his mousy wife Blanche (a subtle Sara Giraudeau).

Based on Jean-Philippe Daguerre’s award-winning play and adapted by Cavaye and Sara Kaminsky for the screen, it’s a twisty little story that goes to unexpected places with a compelling undertow despite the rather grimy wartime settings and stultifying atmosphere. Hobbling around on his callipers and unable to impregnate his wife (Haffmann stepping in to do the honours) Mercier will also turn out to have feet of clay – and his hands are not much better either: the Nazis giving the thumbs down to his inferior design skills, forcing Mr Haffmann to burn the midnight oil from his underground ‘prison’ to provide elegant pieces to satisfy the Nazi molls and allow Mercier to keep up pretences.

Obviously it’s not going to end well given Mercier’s severely dinted ego (it’s a hapless role for Lellouche but he plods on undeterred…) and his wife’s sympathies turn to Mr Haffmann rather than her husband in a morally complex character study which hints at Roman Polanski’s The Pianist. MT

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