Opening 27 Jul 2017
It’s 1942 in France and French policeman Jules (Duquesne) collaborates with the Nazis who have invaded the country. It is his duty to do, which he fulfills as much as his duty to be an exemplary husband, as well as father to his son. He questions Olga (Vysotskaya) who is imprisoned for protecting two Jewish children. She is a Russian aristocrat who works for Vogue Magazine in France, while working undercover for the Resistance against German occupation. She might enjoy a light sentence by manipulating the sexual feelings of Jules, but fate puts him out of the picture rather too soon. As a result she is transported to a German concentration camp. Helmut (Christian Clauss), the SS-officer in charge, is a nobleman with a personal connection to Himmler (Kurth). Helmut is a strict commander to the men under his supervision, while at the same time he dreams about the family home, plays the piano and even reads Russian literature in the original. He fully accepts Hitler’s vision of a German paradise. He recognizes Olga as one of the prisoners and remembers his vacation in Italy when he met and fell in love with her. He renews this feeling for her, and, in order to make her camp life easier, takes her on as his housekeeper.
Slowly we become acquainted with the Frenchman, the Russian, and the German, each representative of a country as well as a personality. They tell their versions of the same stories in monologues, one at a time, each facing the audience directly, each in their own language with subtitles. Their memories are often more impressionable than the actual scenes in Jules’ beautiful house, in the camp or in Helmut’s rooms, possibly because the film is in black and white and we concentrate on their words and not on any action or fancy camera work. The discussions are both subtle and revealing. Much is universal: how does one cope with the situation at hand? What is “paradise”?
Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky is almost 80 years old and this, his 23rd film won first prize for best director at the 2016 Venice film festival, as well as many other prizes. I saw this film two times, and I’m sure that I would learn something new if I saw it again. (Becky Tan)