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LOCARNO 2014 Piazza Grande

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À la vie: all about his mother


- Jean-Jacques Zilbermann tells us about his mother: a woman, deported, a communist, wife and lover

À la vie: all about his mother

Jean-Jacques Zilbermann is visibly moved as he climbs the steps of the Piazza Grande stage in Locarno, not because the eyes of eight thousand spectators in the square are on him, but because these, soon, will be watching his mother through his observations as a child.

Deported to Auschwitz before she’s even twenty, Hélène meets Lili, a Dutch woman, and Rose, another French woman. In the camp the three women help each other to survive, but once they are freed they become separated. Rose is believed to be dead, while Hélène and Lili are sent back to their countries of origin. In Paris Hélène finds the man of her life once again, he too had been deported and tortured and made powerless; they marry soon after. The search for Lili lasts 15 years, they decide to reunite in Berck-sur-mer, in the north of France, where Lili appears with Rose, having miraculously escaped the shutting down of Auschwitz by the Nazis.

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The camera view in Zilberman’s À la vie [+see also:
film profile
is delicate and profound, just like his mother’s gaze probably was, and with respect it tells us about the womens’ first meeting after the hell that was the concentration camp. The week they spend together on the French coast is an infectious ode to life, a collective ritual to overcome the horror through friendship, irony, the most intimate confessions and a desire to look towards the future.

The location in France in the 60s, the height of frivolity and of hopes in the aftermath of the second world war, is a clear narrative choice; a means, explains the director, “of making the tale more profound by immerging us in the carefree joy of those years”. Truly convincing acting by Julie Depardieu (Hélèn), Johanna Ter Steege (Lili) and Suzanne Clément (Rose) pays tribute to the extraordinary normality of the three women. 

The film is produced by Elzévir Films (Paris), worldwide rights are owned by Le Pacte.

(Translated from Italian)

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