Farewell, Mr. Haffmann:”Uneasy alliances”
Caring for our fellow human beings while negotiating emotional minefields can be difficult and complex, especially during times of adversity and calamity. Joseph Haffmann (Daniel Auteuil) is a jeweller living in Paris during 1941. His delicate creations are admired by many people. He works with an assistant, François (Gilles Lellouche), who aspires to make his own range of jewellery. They have a successful working relationship, although Haffmann, the business owner and master jeweller, is clearly the senior member of the workshop and the person who is in-charge.
Mr. Haffmann & François
Things change when the Nazis occupy Paris. Shopkeepers and residents live a precarious existence between the normal occupations of life and the tension created by an occupying force. When senior Nazi officers attend Haffman’s shop and purchase his exquisite brooches, living and exisiting become strained.
The horrific truth behind the Nazis arrival and their purpose as invading troops becomes evident. Their intent is shown by residents speaking in muted tones and sneaking suspicious glances. Shops are closed and the Jewish shopkeepers are relocated; clearly, they are being sent to the death camps.
Haffmann and his family are Jewish. Their predicament is dire. His attempt to flee to join his family, who have escaped, before the Nazis identify and imprison him are thwarted and he is trapped in the basement of his home and shop. He improvises a plan to evade capture and survive by deeding his business to François and his wife, Blanche (Sara Giraudeau), and then revert it to him when the war ends.
François & the NAZIs: an uneasy alliance
All their best plans become entangled in a trap of moral ambiguity. François enjoys the attention afforded to him as the new proprietor by Nazi Commandant Jünger (Nikolai Kinski) and his fellow officers. This creates tension between Blanche and François. François’ misplaced camaraderie with the Nazis exacerbates the discordance and heightens the emotional strain between Blanche and François.
A key factor in their relationship is their desire to have children. This is further tested when François suggests an indelicate and, to Blanche, unspeakable proposal regarding their inability to conceive. François’ psychological scars are heightened by a physical disability. His feelings of inadequacy fuel his ill-conceived associations and emotional dislocation. The Nazis are the obvious villains, yet François’ confusion and misplaced judgements place him into a spiral that results in a transformation for which there can be no turning back. The lines between morality and decency are shattered.
Haffmann, Blanche & François: an uncomfortable alliance
François becomes Haffmann’s captor. Confinements are both physical and psychological for all the characters. The shop, the apartment and the basement are physical statements of their mental restrictions. Blanche implores François not to consort with the Nazis but he resists her implorations. François’ desire to create his own line of jewellery conflicts with his and Blanche’s repressed understanding of what the relocation of Jewish business owners, including Haffmann, really means—deportation to concentration camps. This enrages Haffmann when he realises how François is sourcing rare stones to create his own jewellery. François’ psychological insecurity overrules his sense of decency. The moral ambiguities are wide-ranging and intertwined. They challenge everyone involved. Everyone is implicated in these uneasy alliances.
The point of no-return for François and the circumstances that lead to the movie’s conclusion are clever, yet somewhat contrived. Everything falls into place and the loose ends are tied into a tidy knot. The resolution is convenient but nonetheless distressful.
Farewell, Mr. Haffmann is more than a story of people surviving war. It is a tale of confused morals and the ambiguity that arises when people choose between saving themselves and attaining their desires regardless of the implications of other people’s suffering. Their morality is compromised by their personal needs and overwhelming ambitions that supplant the moral codes they would exhibit during ordinary times.
Official Trailer Farewell, Mr Haffmann (French with subtitles)
Warning: Contains spoiler alert
Official trailer & production stills © Pathé
FILM EXTRAS: LIVING IN DANGEROUS CIRCUMSTANCES
Please Note: The following films include distressing scenes and depictions of cruel human behaviour
Jo Jo Rabbit (2019)
Jojo is a lonely German boy who discovers that his single mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic. Aided only by his imaginary friend -- Adolf Hitler -- Jojo must confront his blind nationalism as World War II continues to rage on. Satire at its finest.
Life is Beautiful (1998)
During World War II, a gentle Jewish-Italian waiter, Guido Orefice (Roberto Benigni), Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), and their son, Giosue's (Giorgio Cantarini) lives are halted abruptly when Guido and Giosue are separated from Dora and taken to a concentration camp. Determined to shelter his son from the horrors of his surroundings, Guido convinces Giosue that their time in the camp is merely a game. He uses humor to shield his young son from the grim realities of war.
Where to Watch: Life is Beautiful
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008)
Eight-year-old Bruno (Asa Butterfield) and his family leave Berlin to take up residence near the concentration camp where his father (David Thewlis) has just become commandant. Unhappy and lonely, he wanders out behind his house one day and finds Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), a Jewish boy of his age. Though the barbed-wire fence of the camp separates them, the boys begin a forbidden friendship, oblivious to the real nature of their surroundings and the tragedy that unfolds before them.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
Schindler’s List (1994)
Businessman Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) arrives in Krakow in 1939, ready to make his fortune from World War II, which has just started. After joining the Nazi party primarily for political expediency, he staffs his factory with Jewish workers for similarly pragmatic reasons. When the SS begins exterminating Jews in the Krakow ghetto, Schindler arranges to have his workers protected to keep his factory in operation, but soon realizes that he is also saving innocent lives.
Where to Watch: Schindler’s List