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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Set in Paris from May 1941 (i.e. during the Nazi Occupation), this is a tense, superbly written and acted and pitch-perfect morality tale. The themes are large – compromise, duplicity, greed, inhumanity… – but the focus is determinedly narrow, and it’s all the more powerful for that.
Daniel Auteuil plays Joseph Haffmann, an exceptionally talented jeweller who is a Polish Jew, and who arranges for his family to flee to a safe part of France. Haffmann stays behind (very briefly being the plan), hides in the basement and nominally sells the business to his assistant Francois Mercier (Gilles Lellouche).
Mercier does a roaring trade in jewellery, and is decidedly unethical to a point way beyond what might be excusable or unavoidable under the circumstances. What follows is for the most part a three-hander involving these two men and Mercier’s wife Blanche (Sara Giraudeau). All three actors are impressive.
If the premise of the tale is relatively straightforward, you may be assured that there’s a great deal more to it, none of which you should know going in.
Farewell Mr Haffmann feels and looks like a play – most of the film is set inside one building – and was indeed based on a play of the same name by Jean-Philippe Daguerre. But it loses absolutely nothing in the transition to the big screen from any supposed ‘staginess’. This is first-rate drama with considerable cumulative intensity – and a quorum of irony – and it’s unreservedly recommended.