Review by Sean Boelman
Virginie Efiria has slowly been gathering acclaim on the international film circuit, but it seems like 2022 is her year to break out. In Paris Memories, she does some of the best work of her already promising career in the context of a brilliantly-crafted and well-written movie by Alice Winocour.
The film follows a woman who, having survived a devastating terrorist attack months earlier, begins to dive into her memories of the tragic events of that night in an attempt to move forward. We’ve seen several movies set in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, but this film takes a very humanistic approach, showing a character as she attempts to understand the complexities of her trauma.
Winocour’s approach to directing the movie is very tasteful. When it comes to films about terrorist attacks, it’s hard to tread the line where it is adequately harrowing but doesn’t feel like it is being exploitative of trauma. Winocour does that by showing as little as possible — still communicating the terror of this experience without being gratuitous in its depiction of violence.
The other thing that allows Winocour’s approach to work so well is that it is arguably more about the emotion that comes from this experience than it is about the anxiety. The movie’s focus is primarily on the feeling of emptiness that the protagonist experiences after this tragedy, and it’s quite depressing to have to see something like this.
Winocour explores the themes of trauma and PTSD in a deep, sensitive way that few other films have been able to achieve. Although few people ever have, and hopefully ever will, have to go through this experience, the movie is extraordinarily compelling and sympathetic in how it explores the toll this violence takes.
Efiria gives an extraordinary nuanced performance in her leading role — one of two she gave in films that played in this year’s TIFF. Although much of the movie is simply her drifting through the streets of Paris, she does so in a way that doesn’t feel like she is merely being reactive, but that she is processing her emotions in a complex way.
Although this is firmly Efiria’s vehicle, she is surrounded by a supporting cast that is quietly strong in their own way. Benoit Magimel is the standout as another survivor of the same attack that Efiria’s character went through. Although his purpose is firmly to push Efiria’s character further along, he also has some very compelling moments of his own.
Paris Memories may not be the easiest film to watch, but it’s extremely rewarding. Thanks to an exceptional performance by Virginie Efiria to go alongside a brilliant script, this is certainly one of the best movies about this topic yet.
Paris Memories screened at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, which ran September 8-18.