The Movie Waffler New to VOD - PARIS MEMORIES | The Movie Waffler


A survivor of a terrorist attack attempts to piece together her memories of the incident.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Alice Winocour

Starring: Virginie Efira, Benoît Magimel, Grégoire Colin, Maya Sansa, Amadou Mbow

Paris Memories poster

Mention Paris in a game of word association a decade ago and the reply would probably be a variation of "romance." Ask the same question five years ago and the French capital may have provoked a response of "terrorism." The lack of attacks in Western Europe in the last few years now makes that not so long ago period when the continent seemed to suffer weekly atrocities a distant era. Of course, that's not the case for anyone caught up in such incidents. I imagine survivors of the November 2015 massacre at Paris's Bataclan venue think about that awful night every day.

Paris Memories review

One such survivor is the brother of filmmaker Alice Winocour (Disorder; Proxima). Inspired by his story, Winocour has created a fictional survivor of a fictional terrorist in Mia, played by rising Belgian star Virginie Efira. When a night out with her doctor boyfriend Vincent (Gregoire Colin) is cut short as he's called to work, Mia decides to stop by another bistro for a drink, only to find herself cowering under a table for her life when a group of men start shooting everyone in sight.

Months later, Paris is beginning to move on from the attack (memorial wreaths are coldy swept away by council workers) but Mia is still stuck on that night, haunted by memories she's unsure are even accurate. Mia joins a group of survivors who meet each week in the same bistro where the attack occurred, helping each other to move forward. One angry woman accuses Mia of locking herself away in a bathroom, something Mia has no recollection of. A wounded survivor, Thomas (Benoit Magimel), confesses that he was about to ask Mia to join him for a drink when the shooting started, and that as far as he can recollect, she never hid in a bathroom.

Paris Memories review

As Mia immerses herself in the venue, memories begin to emerge. One in particular stands out, that of a young Senegalese man (Amadou Mbow) gripping her hand as they hid from the gunmen. Mia begins inquiring into who this man might be, but things become complicated when it emerges that he's an undocumented migrant who doesn't want to be exposed.

Aside from a few on-the-nose details, like how Mia's apartment happens to overlook a memorial to the attack, Winocour presents Mia's journey in a matter-of-fact manner, free of sentimentality or melodrama. It's a largely procedural narrative, with Mia taking the role of detective in her own case. Mia's desire to piece together her lived experience echoes the narratives of thrillers like Blow-Up, Deep Red and Blowout, but she doesn't have the luxury of having any physical media to edit together. Strips of film and reels of sound exist only in her fractured, unreliable mind.

Paris Memories review

Often clad in a motorcyclist's helmet, Mia is initially guarded from the world around her, and she's constantly seen gripping the helmet in her hand as though ready to don it at the first indication of trouble. As the film progresses and Mia opens up, she becomes looser in her posture and the smile we saw in the movie's early scenes begins to return. Efira often appears to be looking intently, but Winocour refuses to allow the viewer to see just what is holding her gaze. Perhaps Mia doesn't know herself, and is looking through people and walls for answers. In the film's closing scene she looks once again, but we see what has caught her gaze, the symbol of hope Mia has been looking for. By that point it's clear that taking down a memorial isn't enough to allow Paris to move on from its recent past, but it's telling that the film closes on an image of romance.

Paris Memories is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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