I have been a member of the AJFF’s Film Evaluation Committee for about a decade, watching hundreds of movies every year in an effort to help pick the ones that will make it into the festival. I can tell you right now that Farewell Mr. Haffmann is among the most compelling Holocaust dramas I have seen in that time.
The Nazis are marching to Paris and jeweler Joseph Haffmann (Daniel Auteuil, one of the most decorated actors in French cinema) sends his family away to safety. His plan is to follow them but first he must hand his jewelry shop over to his apprentice, Francois. The plan is for Francois to operate the shop while Haffmann is away and then return it to its rightful owner when the war is over.
Francois and his wife, Blanche, will live in the apartment above the store, occupying the space that the Haffmann family once called home. But, the plans fall apart when the Nazis arrive faster than expected and suddenly Haffmann is stuck. Francois agrees to hide Haffmann in the basement, despite Blanche’s warning that they are putting all their lives in danger. The arrangement becomes particularly dangerous when a local Nazi commander takes a liking to Haffmann’s craftsmanship and frequently stops in to purchase jewelry for his various girlfriends. As weeks and months pass, the strain of their reversed roles begins to weigh on the relationship between master jeweler and apprentice. How long will Francois keep his word and continue to protect Mr. Haffmann?
Though the surprising twists and turns of this story are what keep you glued to the screen, what makes this film special is the way the characters shift and develop over time. Haffmann, Francois, and Blanche are asked to make tremendous sacrifices to keep each other safe and the three lead actors inject emotion and humanity into the characters that make their every move seem honest and believable. At various moments I found myself sympathizing with each of them. It would have been easy for this shifting story to go off the rails and feel absurd if not handled with the delicate craft on display here. It is the kind of film you will be eager to talk about when the lights come up and all has been revealed.