- Colin Fraser
FAREWELL, MR HAFFMAN
FOUR STARS Hoping to outwit the Nazis, Mr Haffman sells his jewellery store to his assistant. PERIOD DRAMA France (French language) #FAREWELLMRHAFFMAN
Starring Daniel Auteuil, Gilles Lellouche
It’s 1941 and the Nazi’s run Paris. When Haffman (Daniel Auteuil) sees his Jewish neighbours being rounded up, he decides to smuggle his family to safety with the intention of joining them later. First he will arrange paperwork for his assistant Mercier (Gilles Lellouche) to ‘buy’ Haffman’s jewellery business with the proviso that he’ll give it back after the war. Meanwhile Mercier will get everything; the stock, the apartment, the furniture. It’s a sweet deal for him and his wife Blanche (Sara Giraudeau) who cheerfully take up the offer.
No sooner do they move in than Haffman returns, unable to escape the city. Seeking refuge, he hides in his own basement. At first it’s a convivial arrangement but Mercier’s aspirations get the better of him. He has plans to launch a range of his own designs, and the store has gained the attention of a German commander. But it is Haffman’s work that is appealing, Mercier’s designs are too blunt, obvious. With his ego pricked but conscious of where Nazi approval could take him, Mercier puts his former boss to work, passing off Haffman’s creations as his own.
Director Fred Cavayé has adapted a beloved stage play by Jean-Phillippe Daguerre with great success. It’s a dark yet compelling tale that takes unexpected turns such Mercier’s solution to the problem of his wife’s desire to have children. We know that her husband is impotent and so he obliges Haffman to do the honours, assuming, presumably, that the Jew won’t survive the war and no one will question the child’s parentage. What Blanche makes of it all is immaterial. Or is it?
Despite much of the action taking place in one of two rooms, Cavayé avoids the feeling that plagues so many stage-turned-film productions. He neatly leverages the grimy, threatening, claustrophobic atmosphere and makes it his own. It’s the ideal canvas for his three stars. Auteuil is, as always, mesmerising. He brings understatement, intelligence and dignity to the way Haffman plans to escape from an impossible situation. Lellouche and Giraudeau are perfect support, neither giving in to the temptation to grandstand.
As Mercier’s self-esteem first declines at the hands of the Germans, then Haffman and finally his own wife, it’s clear his retribution will be ugly and things won’t end well. But for whom, and at whose doing, that’s where the ‘pleasure’ lies in this morally complex character study. The price of hubris is high, as they all discover.