evil stronger than love

Annette Zelman (Ilona Bachelier, center) in


Among the 76,000 lives annihilated by the deportation and genocide of the Jews of France, that of Annette Zelman waited more than thirty years, and the publication, in the mid-1970s, of The Great History of the French under the Occupation (Robert Laffont), ofHenry Amouroux, to appear in broad daylight. Laurent Joly then devoted a chapter to it in Denounce the Jews under the Occupation (CNRS Editions), published in 2017. Assassinated at the age of 20 in Auschwitz, in August 1942, Annette Zelman was one of the first Jewish women arrested by the French police and handed over to Nazi Germany.

Philippe Le Guay’s simple and strong film depicts the banal sequence, both in its splendor (the love that unites very young people whom everything separates) and in its abjection (the petty adherence to a mass crime ), which led to the arrest and death of Annette Zelman. In the sometimes narrow scope of a production for television – the ninety-minute limit sometimes shifts from conciseness to simplification; the reconstruction, among other things, of bohemian life under the Occupation, remains in the sketch state, albeit elegant – this exemplary story nevertheless manages to be embodied.

Tragic backlash

A student at the Beaux-Arts, Annette Zelman (Ilona Bachelier) met, in 1941, Jean Jausion (Vassili Schneider), a poet, a few years her senior. Born in France, she comes from a family of Jewish craftsmen, he grew up in a bourgeois Catholic family. Her father, Hubert (Laurent Lucas), is a doctor. At the turn of a reply, we learn that he was a member of the French Action. Christiane (Julie Gayet), her mother, is divided between good works and social concerts in her living room. These ordinary representatives of good Parisian society are ultimately more permeable to the air of the times than their children.

While Annette and Jean, after a brief waltz-hesitation, fall in love and dream of being artists – she as a painter, he as a writer –, in defiance of the approaching reality, the Jausion feed their salon conversations on the recent success of the Parisian anti-Semitic exhibition and receive collaborationist actor Robert Le Vigan as a family friend. The young girl remains deaf to the warnings of her parents (Guilaine Londez and Daniel Cohen), more aware of the threat that weighs, while her fiancé believes their couple protected by the social status of his family.

What happens could have been, at another time in the history of France, the subject of a novel by Balzac: parents who oppose the union of their offspring with a woman they consider unworthy from him. But Philippe Le Guay and his co-screenwriter, Emmanuel Salinger, draw very well the movement of the forces that are at work here. It is no longer just a question of preserving the domination of a class but the purity of the race.

Laurent Lucas – despicable almost in spite of himself – and Julie Gayet – a mother so concerned with dignity that she becomes unworthy of it – give a terrible reality to the moral bankruptcy of a family, but also of a social group. The tragic aftershocks of the arrest and deportation of Annette Zelman are barely sketched in the last part of the film, the material of which could have been deployed in a fuller form.

The Story of Annette Zelman, film by Philippe Le Guay (Fr., 2022, 93 min). With Ilona Bachelier, Vassili Schneider, Julie Gayet, Laurent Lucas, Guilaine Londez, Daniel Cohen. In replay on France.tv

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