|Virginie Efira, Benoît Magimel, Grégoire Colin, Maya Sansa, Amadou Mbow, Nastya Golubeva
|November 9, 2023
Paris Memories sounds gimmicky. The plot overview on the Internet Movie Database talks about the survivor of a terrorist attack in Paris who, having forgotten most of what happened, retraces her steps a few months later to help trigger memories. Thankfully, the film is much better than that simplistic pitch and asks viewers to think about intense trauma, its differing impacts, and the many ways to get past it.
As you might expect, the movie opens with the event itself. To avoid pelting rain outside, Mia (Efira) has ducked into a up-market Parisian restaurant for a quick drink. She sits alone at a table facing outwards, looks around at the other clientele, and scribbles in a notebook (part of her day job as a Russian translator). After a quick trip to the bathroom to remove ink marks on her hand, she returns to her table and gunfire blasts through the room. Her final clear memory from that night is hiding under tables on the floor.
We then slip three months into the future where Mia, one of the few survivors from that night, returns to the restaurant to help recall what took place. As the audience, it feels like we’re on the same journey of self-discovery. Mia walks around the restaurant, talks with staff, meets other survivors, and bonds with relatives of those who lost family members. These interactions elicit fleeting recollections about what she saw during the two hours of the attack.
Paris Memories serves up many interesting layers. The film explores the “closure” some of us require before moving on. Félicia (Carax) is a young woman who lost both her parents in the attack and she asks Mia if she saw them that night. She wants a mental picture of their final minutes together – what they said and what they did. Thomas (Magimel) is a fellow survivor and while he has a crystal-clear memory of events, he refuses to set foot inside the restaurant. He wants to move forward and not wallow on the past and what cannot be changed. There’s also a cook who was working in the kitchen at the time but, because of his status as an illegal immigrant, isn’t listed in any police reports and doesn’t want to be found.
Writer-director Alice Winocour (Proxima) also taps into the subconscious and the way each of us can have different recollections and interpretations of the same event. This becomes evident when Mia talks with other survivors (one of them is particularly angry) and sees posts in a Facebook chat group. In the absence of video cameras, a definitive version of the truth will never exist and we’re left to our own minds, which can shift over time.
Perhaps most importantly, the film has something to say about “silver linings” and how even the worse moments of our lives can create something positive. As Mia pushes through the confusion, pain and trauma, she revaluates her routine existence and the relationship she shares with her long-time partner, Vincent (Colin). Is it possible to be in a happier place after everything that has taken place? It’s a question worth asking.
Winning Virginie Efira the best actress prize at the 2023 César Awards (she’s very good), Paris Memories is moving and thought-provoking.