Voyages Movie Review

Emmanuel Finkiel, the director of Voyages, was once an assistant director to the late, great Krzystof Kieslowski (The Decalogue, Red). Perhaps from Kieslowski the French filmmaker learned to portray daily life with such quiet intensity and deep profoundness. Voyages reminds us that life is an ongoing memory, a way of coping with the present by looking into the past.

The film is composed of three separate stories about people searching for their relatives, all of whom have had lives forever changed by the horrors of the World War II. The first story begins with a group of French Holocaust survivors who make a pilgrimage to Auschwitz. On the way, they stop at an old Jewish cemetery, passing by monuments to the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland. Before reaching the site of the Jewish death camp, the bus in which they travel breaks down. In distress, they argue and reminisce about their past; when they interact, the lost world of Eastern European Jewry echoes in their intonations, gestures, and language.

We witness the emotional quandary of one of the passengers, Rivka, but just when the story picks up the speed, it flows into another one: A widow living in Paris receives a phone call from a man in Lithuania who claims to be her father. She agrees to meet him, and the painful exploration of the past begins again. Is this man, whom she assumed had died in a concentration camp fifty years ago, really her father? She questions him, but the memories they share have been obscured by time and distance.

In the third and most enigmatic episode an old, Russian émigré, Vera, travels to Tel-Aviv looking for her distant relative. To her dismay, nobody in Israel speaks Yiddish and her cousin's memory is faulty. (It reportedly took Finkiel three years to find actress Esther Gorintin to play Vera, a woman whose round face and beady eyes exude tireless dignity and determination.) By a sheer accident Vera, meets Rivka on a Tel Aviv bus, whereupon the film reveals its delicate psychological premise.

Unlike many other films that deal with the Holocaust, Voyages is a film of incredible emotional subtlety. While it may only be appreciated by a patient and careful viewer, the film's pace is slow; its elaborate, long takes thicken the weight of the past. Set in a contemporary world, the film lays out the heartbreak of the post-war generation with tenderness and compassion -- and shows how that tragic legacy separates it from the rest of the world.

Comments

Voyages Rating

" Extraordinary "

Rating: NR, 1999

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