This year has produced several films about terrorist attacks in France. One Year and One Night by Isaki Lacuesta (which premiered in Berlin this year) and November by Cedric Jimenez which is being shown out of competition at Cannes, and Alice Winocour’s deeply personal Paris Memories (Revoir Paris) which was inspired by Winocour’s own brother who was in the midst of the November 2015 attacks at Bataclan. The film follows a woman’s journey to recovery after surviving a mass shooting.
Mia (Virginie Efira) walks through Paris aimlessly trying to put the pieces of her life after the incident. She’s looking for someone, anyone that was there that day whom she can connect with and help recall her dissociated memories of that day. Her mind is fractured and can’t seem to move on from post-traumatic stress. Before the incident, she worked as a translator. It seemed like an average day when she stopped at a local bistro and her life changed forever.
There is a small group of survivors Mia often visits at the scene of the crime. It’s the closest thing she has to a community—a group of people who understand what she’s been through. Her guilt gets the best of her when she starts seeing apparitions of dead people who haunt her in the subway, and on the streets. Nothing can be the same for Mia now as she sees the city she loves through a fresh perspective, and the life she lives post attack has a new purpose.
Sometimes we can live in a place so long we take it for granted and Winocour’s goal with Paris Memories is to reintroduce the city to its own inhabitants. Her grandiose shots of the city at night and during the day display the landscape in all its splendor. The Bataclan incident is a stain on French history, but the city continued to persist due to the resilience of Parisians.
The director’s stories always deal with a form of emotional turmoil that’s connected to the feminine psyche. And of all the films about these terrorist attacks at the festival, Winocour’s is the only one that gets inside the head of survivors and digs deep into their personal healing process. Actress Virginie Efria is invested in Mia’s journey, and by the finale there is a satisfaction and a completeness to the character’s arc.
There are moments that should have been rawer in execution as the movie can be saccharine at times. In addition, the romantic subplots are the least interesting part of the movie, but Winocour knows how to hit an audience right in the feels. She gives her leading actresses exactly what is needed so they can execute her vision. Paris Memories made me want to rediscover the city I was born in, and call my loved ones to make sure they’re ok.
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