Un Sac De Billes (A Bag of Marbles) a French film with English subtitles directed by French Canadian Christian Duguay, with stunning Cinematography by Christophe Graillot certainly captivated the packed audience and affected many hearts at the Palace Cinema Como on Monday 13th March 2017 for the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival.
This moving story of human courage and its desire for freedom was adapted from the highly acclaimed book by Joseph Joffo written about his family and their experiences during World War II. It is a story about the bond forged between two brothers from a Jewish family, one that would stand the test of time.
Joseph and Maurice were 10 and 12 years of age when the Germans army under the rule of Adolf Hitler marched into Paris and occupied it and parts of France at first, where they immediately began rounding up Jewish people to send them back to German concentration camps where they were to be exterminated.
Featuring Dorian Le Chlech as Joseph and Batyste Fleurial as his elder brother Maurice, the boys lived in a happy family environment with their father Roman (Patrick Bruel), their mother Anna (Elsa Zylberstein) and two older brothers Henri (Cesar Domboy) and Albert (Ilian Bergala). They were all involved in the family business, hairdressing and the boys play marbles with their friends.
While most of the members of his family understood what the arrival of the German army into Paris meant in so many ways, Roman knows that Joseph is really just too young to understand all the implications and that how one slip of the tongue could destroy them all.
Roman wanted his family to survive and so takes an immediate decision to split them all up to flee. He knew this was one circumstance when being together in unity as a family would not help them in anyway at all.
Their mother Anna is passionate, a musician and woman who can wear her heart on her sleeve who has learned how to be circumspect. Their father Roman is a deep thinker who buries what’s in his heart in times of trouble, while remaining sure and steady to win each small battle as it happens, in order to win the whole war and keep his family safe until it ends.
He sends his two eldest sons off on one route to Nice, which at that time was still unoccupied by the Germans. He and his wife plan to take another route altogether.
This means he has to set his two youngest on the road alone together, making the eldest son Maurice responsible for his younger brother’s life.
Before he sends them on their way to catch trains, walk or get help along the way he has to somehow make young Joseph understand the gravity of he and his brother’s situation, ensuring his mind is and remains in survival mode, while not believing their journey is a great adventure.
He shocks him into realisation, which goes against the grain of this very good man, who puts his son’s needs way before his own. Before casting them some might think cruelly into the cold night away from the warmth and security of the family nest, he chooses to hurt his youngest son first by slapping his face hard and many times, because he knows German interrogators certainly will.
It has the impact he intends, making the child a fierce advocate for his faith, which he now knows must keep hidden. Talking about what that means with his brother along the road, helps him to build his resolve.
Dorian La Clech the young actor playing Joseph with such intensity and vulnerability, is indeed remarkable in his role. It seems amazing Director’s today are able to coax stunning performances out of young children dealing with great trauma (Sunny Pawar’s role in Lion is another recent performance that comes to mind).
Batyste Fleurial plays Maurice the steadying solid influence in his life with humour and pathos, as they both in many ways metaphorically echo the roles their parents play in their lives.
It’s a dynamic partnership and it feels like a privilege watching them both gain wisdom about the human condition, way beyond their years. Together Joseph and Maurice negotiate the challenges that arise as they happen and find it hard to surpress the sense of freedom they feel travelling on the road without parental guidance.
Joseph finds it hard to bury his heritage deep within his psyche, and more than once it nearly surfaces threatening to destroy them both, especially when he meets the first love of his life. It is fate and good sense that intervene to keep him safe until he can shout it from the rooftops.
Dr Rosen is one of the many people who helps them along the way, a Jewish doctor working under duress for the Nazi’s he declares their ‘Jewishness’ according to the Nazi’s was performed as a surgical procedure, and not part of a ‘religious ceremony’, saving their lives while ensuring he will lose his own.
Growing up reading stories from World War II, including the Diary of Anne Frank about the young Jewish Girl in Amsterdam and her family who did all die, this production had an impact for me. By the 60’s and early 70’s when my own children were born circumcision for baby boys was a norm in Australia where it was really not about religion (we were Roman Catholics and Anglicans) but about good health practices. It was recommended at clinics set up to help new young mothers, as well as by Obstetricians and Grandmothers
A Bag of Marbles the boys leave behind when they flee becomes symbolic of childhood innocence. The film certainly touched many hearts around me in a packed cinema in Melbourne. It certainly brought the past of my own childhood rushing back fast at a time when fear was still all around me in 50’s Australia, as my very large extended family related over and over again their own stories of survival at first during the depression and World War II, which was all about learning patience and endurance.
There are many highpoints in A Bag of Marbles and the French countryside has never looked more beautiful. Canadian Director Duguay manipulates our emotions so we don’t dismiss the sacrifices many made so we would be able to grow up in a ‘better’ world. With the changing of the guard generation wise, it is important these stories remain in the public psyche, lest we forget.
We don’t want to offer too many spoilers; it is best you see A Bag of Marbles for yourself. But take a bundle of tissues, for by the end in my session the audience who remained seated for a long time, were all holding back or letting their tears fall freely in empathy.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017
Watch the Trailer