Fifty years after the Holocaust, the subject is becoming increasingly popular. Two sorts of films are currently in vogue as ways of dealing with it: one is to focus on the heroism of a non-Jew who risked his, or in this case her, life to save one or more Jews (Schindler's List and Lucie Aubrac). This approach has the advantage of appealing to non-Jews who can identify with a non-Jew's heroism and believe they might have made similar choices.
The other, recent phenomenon is to treat the Holocaust as the backdrop for Jewish dreamers, people who create a fantasy world and help others avoid the horrors of life by enabling them to believe in the fantasy. These films (such as Life is Beautiful and Jacob the Liar) purport to show the power of love--how one person can delude the evil Nazis and save a loved one through creating a dream world. Ah--if only that that had been true--how many people would still be alive.*
Lucie Aubrac, which was recently released in this country, can probably be seen at your local Jewish film festival. It was directed by Claude Berri, who also directed the enchanting Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring (1987), films that exposed the sordid realities of peasant life amidst the glorious countryside.
Unlike most Resistance films, Lucie Aubrac focuses on a female heroine. In fact, the film is based on the autobiography of the real French resistance heroine Aubrac--a book entitled They Will Leave in Rapture.
Lucie, played by the popular actress Carole Bouquet (Too Beautiful for You, 1988, A Business Affair, 1995), is a non-Jew blissfully married to a Jew. Her husband Raymond, sensitively played by Daniel Auteuil (La Reine Margot, 1997, Manon of the Spring and Jean de Florette), is a leader in the Resistance to the German Occupation. When the leader of Daniel's faction is captured by the Gestapo, the rest of the group meets at the home of a physician to plan their next move. However, an informer gives them away, they are arrested by the Gestapo, and Raymond is sentenced to death.
Pregnant with their second child, Lucie boldly intervenes to save her husband. She visits the prison director pretending to be the type of woman that she clearly is not, says that she is unwed, yet pregnant, and that she cannot face society unless Raymond marries her before being put to death. Playing on conventional attitudes toward women, she convinces the prison authorities to perform the marriage. The scene where they are reunited before the unsuspecting prison director, as she and Raymond try to play along and not endanger each other, is one of the best in the film. After the ceremony, while Raymond is being transported back to prison, Lucie helps their Resistance friends ambush Raymond's convoy and free him.
Although the film is a riveting wartime thriller, it, like the main character Lucie Aubrac, is rather cold. The marriage of Lucie and her husband is depicted as perfect, and Lucie is always portrayed as heroic and determined. We never see her doubting herself or her positions. Unlike most people, she always knows immediately what to do when faced with a difficult situation. As I watched, I thought back to war thrillers with male heroes, and perhaps Bouquet's portrayal is similar to those heroic men. But the films I most enjoy depict characters, even war heroes, as multidimensional, not just heroic icons. In that respect, I found this film disappointing.
*I wouldn't want to omit another film that dealt quite successfully with the Holocaust: Claude Lelouche's 1995 adaptation of Les Miserables, starring French film star Jean-Paul Belmondo, which applied the theme of Jean Valjean being pursued unfairly to the persecution of the Jews. This film took neither of the two approaches discussed above.