In November 2023, I reviewed a Holocaust rescuer film titled Irena’s Vow. I believed the film’s heart was in the right place but lacked nuance and layers. The characters were pure or evil. The plot was mannered and, at times, hard to believe. It was based on a true story, but its cinematic rendering didn’t quite impress (much as it pained me to admit that).

A film ready for release in April of 2024, also a rescuer tale, titled Farewell, Mr. Haffmann, succeeds in all the ways Irena’s Vow came up short.

Farewell, Mr. Haffmann is set in occupied France. The Jewish Mr. Haffmann is a talented jeweler. His assistant, Francois, is loyal and hard-working but lacks his employer’s genius with gems and stones. When the Nazis make it clear they are going to round up Jews, Mr. Haffmann sends his family to safety. He devises a plan to sell his jewelry store to Francois and buy it back when the war is over. Before Mr. Haffmann can flee, the Germans block all escape from Paris. Mr. Haffmann is trapped in the basement of his former store. Francois and his wife Blanche, who have moved into the apartment above the store, are good people and refuse to turn in Mr. Haffmann.

But this comes with a price and not just the risk of protecting a Jew. This is what Farewell, Mr. Haffmann is really about: power dynamics and how circumstances can shift them in ways religiously, financially, sexually, socially, and psychologically.

A wrinkle in the story is Francois’s sterility. Blanche desperately desires a child, but Francois cannot give her one naturally. He already feels inferior due to a crippled leg and an inability to master the jeweler’s trade. Throw into the bargain being incapable of fathering a child, and Francois is a man battered by inadequacy.

But events have afforded him an opportunity. With Mr. Haffmann unable to leave the basement, Francois suggests his former employer and former social superior sire a child. Blanche reluctantly agrees. Mr. Haffmann pretends to go along with the scheme in exchange for Francois’s agreement to mail letters to his family—despite that risk.

Both men deceive one another as Mr. Haffmann declines to mate with Blanche (she keeps this secret as she was never partial to it), while Francois burns the letters.

Clearly, Francois’s choices are the more striking due to their eroding moral quality. In addition to burning the letters, Francois begins to get cozy with Nazi officers who admire the jewelry he sells. He’s making good money, and for the first time in his life feels ascendant. Yet it’s not really his work, and he even compels Mr. Haffmann to produce more jewelry for continued protection.

What began as two men respecting and helping each other is flipped on its head. The simple tale of right and wrong becomes a layered story of shifts in power and status and implied exposure. It is an upstairs/downstairs story but not in a Downton Abbey mansion but a Parisian walkup. The social classes are not separated nor are their plights playing out in A and B storylines. Instead, they are intertwined and increasingly inimical to one another. Who will blink becomes the ultimate dramatic question in this movie.

The weakness of the film is its ending. It’s a little too pat and abrupt for my taste, but the narrative itself is less important than the metaphor. War, other than its obvious physical and kinetic tapestry, can provide a remarkable opportunity for exploring the fragility of human relationships. Farewell, Mr. Hauffmann does this masterfully.

I’d hazard a guess its budget was smaller than Irena’s Vow (both are limited location efforts) yet its production value and effectiveness both greater.

By comparing these films, it is not my intention to impugn Irena’s Vow, but contrasting the two pictures can be instructive to filmmakers, both new and veteran.

It demonstrates how events, large or small, can bring out the best in people or turn them into cads—deftly demonstrating how a person can embrace both ethical good and bad. A film that can offer this kind of character study while also plotting a narrative that is easy to grasp and entertaining deserves high marks. I give them to Farewell, Mr. Haffmann—a man in full.

BLAST MAGAZINE RATING: 3.5 OUT OF 4 STARS

About The Author

Randy Steinberg has been a Blast film critic since 2011. He has a Master's Degree in Film/Screenwriting from Boston University. He taught screenwriting at BU from 1999-2010. In 2020, he joined the Boston Online Critics Film Association (BOFCA). Randy can be contacted at his website: www.RandySteinbergWriting.com

2 Responses

  1. love tester

    Thank you for your review, I immediately started reading Haffmann after reading this article. The series is really good and has a lot of meaning, set in a wonderful historical context

    Reply
  2. iq test free

    Your description highlights how the film takes what could have been a straightforward moral tale and imbues it with complex layers of social commentary and character development. The shifting power dynamics and the characters’ difficult choices create an engrossing narrative without clear-cut heroes or villains.

    Reply

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