August 17, 2009

One Day You'll Understand

Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): **½

Israeli director Amos Gitai can be one of the world's most graceful and effective filmmakers, as in his extraordinary war film Kippur (2000), or in certain sections of his Natalie Portman-starrer Free Zone (2005). But he's equally susceptible to ham-fisted episodes, as with the clunky Kedma (2002). Unfortunately, his new film One Day You'll Understand (a.k.a. Plus tard) also earns that dubious distinction.

It's 1987, during the time of the Klaus Barbie trials. Jeanne Moreau -- at 80, she's by far the most striking creature in the film -- stars as Rivka, a grandmother who refuses to talk about her past with her grown son, Victor (Hippolyte Girardot, Flight of the Red Balloon, Jump Tomorrow). Victor is obsessed with the Holocaust and wants to find out what happened to his grandparents. But Rivka deftly evades questions and we get a sense of the pain and denial involved in her long life. Too bad this wasn't a short film; in the first 20 minutes or so, we get all the information we need from Moreau's performance. Oddly, Moreau had the same affect in François Ozon's Time to Leave, an at times insufferable film that was buoyed by Moreau's unbearably beautiful moments as the grandmother of the dying hero. Far from a grandmotherly grand dame of cinema, she's still vital.

And so Gitai spends the rest of the film awkwardly filling in all the details that we already suspect. It doesn't help that none of the cast has anywhere near the appeal and power of Moreau (it's hard to imagine this uninteresting, unappealing family related to her). Gitai loves using long takes, and I often love watching them, but here they only drag out the inevitable. His style seems better suited to capturing external events, such as the war in Kippur, the road trip in Free Zone or the soap-opera travails of the next-door neighbors in the underrated Alila (2003).

Here Gitai's story is more focused on interiors and secrets, things hidden and not told; his long takes can't seem to land on anything concrete or descriptive. He tries to visualize some of Rivka's tormented soul by spending lots of time on her collection of symbolic knick-knacks, and this works to some extent, but it's a mere substitute for something more genuine.

Kino's 2009 DVD release comes with a stills gallery and a theatrical trailer.

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Posted by cphillips at August 17, 2009 11:01 AM

I agree with this review, Jeffrey (except that Ozon's Time to Leave, is, for me, one of his finest films -- Moreau included). But watching this one from Gitai is like viewing a French After-School Special about the Holocaust.

Posted by: James van Maanen at November 9, 2009 4:58 AM
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