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Review: Un sac de billes (2017)

Tournage Un sac de Billes

Directed by: Christian Duguay | 113 minutes | | Actors: Dorian Le Clech, Batyste Fleurial, Patrick Bruel, , , , Christian Clavier, , Ilian Bergala, , , Coline Leclère, , , Michaël Erpelding, , , Vincent Nemeth, Luc Palun, Lucas Prisor, , Michael Smadja, Isabelle Ziental

The year is 1944. The Jewish brothers Maurice and Joseph (Jojo) live with their parents and older brothers in Nazi occupied Paris. When the ground gets too hot under his Jewish feet, father Roman splits the family and sends everyone on a journey. Maurice and Jojo take the train south, hoping to reach the free Nice and be reunited with the family there. The brothers soon realize that they need money, cleverness and luck for this. A lot of luck.

‘Un sac de billes’ (bag of marbles) is the second film adaptation of Joseph Joffo’s autobiography of the same name. The film is a cross between serious drama and adventurous youth film, a bit like the Dutch ‘War Winter’. The tone is always nuanced, the good or bad is not in the systems here, but in the individual. We see good and bad French, nasty and friendly Germans. By the way, we do not encounter bad Jews, but that is justifiable.

‘Un sac de billes’ is first and last place a story, and that’s how it looks. Paris in the snow, an old steam locomotive over a high bridge in the French mountains, Nice’s picturesque Vielle Ville, the equally picturesque French countryside. Because of all that 19th-century beauty, the film is more like ‘Alone in the world’ than ‘Schindler’s List’, also because the plastic gore of war remains out of the picture.

The film is exciting. It is clear that Joseph will do well (otherwise he would never have written his autobiography) but how the rest of the family fares remains the question for a long time. The brothers move from one tricky situation to another, is it not in a German headquarters or again in a family of anti-Semitic French collaborators. Exciting, but we’ve seen it just a little too often, in all those other war movies.

The acting is fine, with veterans like Elsa Zylberstein and Patrick Bruel and cute kids Batyste Fleurial and Dorian le Clech as Maurice and Jojo. The images are aesthetically pleasing, the melancholy and moody. Enough reasons to watch this film. Not a high-quality work of art, there are too many clichés for that and the film too often tends towards the sentimental. But for a relaxed night out, this is a great choice.


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