(Written by Allison Brown)
I find myself often bored by the pretentious nature of many Cannes films, and as a result, didn’t expect much from Paris Memories despite its intriguing premise. I was further interested in checking it out as a fan of Virginie Efira’s performance in last year’s Benedetta. Thankfully, Director Alice Winocour hits it out of the park with this one! Her film provides a compelling and well-built mystery very relevant to the gun issues omnipresent in our social stratosphere. Yes, the moody slow builds depicted in many Cannes selections are still here, but luckily, they are used sparingly enough to avoid detracting from the film’s overall pace.
We meet Mia (Virginie Efira) ahead of the life-changing incident. A bad omen at home eventually ripples through the rest of her life as a drinking glass falls out of the cabinet and shatters. At first, it is just a mundane day; Mia grabs an apple, rides her motorcycle to work as a translator for Radio France, and goes through the motions. Afterward, she meets her partner, Vincent (Grégoire Colin) for a meal at an elevated eatery. Upon receiving a call, he must abruptly leave dinner as he is needed back at the hospital for work. They part ways, and Mia heads home.
She finds herself caught in a heavy downpouring of rain, and takes solace in the nearest café, L’Etoile D’or. The spot is packed, but she manages to grab a drink and a table to pass the storm. In the course of some time, Mia observes the people in her near surroundings, locks eyes with a man celebrating his birthday, and her pen explodes, forcing her to make her way towards the bathroom. Everything in this scene moves almost in a calculated slow motion, and pays close attention to detail, surely to prepare the viewer for what is to come.
Mia returns to grab her belongings to leave, but is disturbed by an influx of gunshots and other patrons falling wounded to the ground. We watch her crawl on the floor, while pretending to be dead and navigating corpses as well as shards of shattered glass parallel to the morning’s foreboding in her home; eventually the scene fades to black. Mia, in a voiceover, proclaims that she has no clue what happened next. This is where the weight of the film begins. The gravity and intensity of this painful event is only a mere fifteen minutes into the runtime.
Our lead reappears at a doctor’s office recovering from a significant injury. She is traumatized and has blocked out even the events that transpired for the audience’s viewing. The film spends the runtime trying to piece together the nearly two hours of the traumatic terrorist attack to find out what ensued. She relates to a support group of survivors and their families led by Sara (Maya Sansa) that meet at the appallingly reopened restaurant. Mia navigates an influx of questions. Was she alone? Did she act selfishly when hiding from the attacker? In her search for the truth, she interacts with a handful of survivors, and we see each of their heartbreaking stories come to a close as well.
In the background, her relationship with Vincent disintegrates while a budding romance forms with another survivor, Thomas (Benoît Magimel). Thomas seems to be the only one who retained a significant chunk of what occurred during the fateful night, despite suffering from a substantial injury to his leg. Will anyone else ever understand them again? Mia navigates how to move past such hefty trauma and restart her life, all while being haunted by the ghosts of the diners she interacted with on the dreadful evening.
Once again, Virginie Efira carries the film as a stunning performer. The nuances in her emotions depicted across her face are a delight. The chemistry between Mia and Thomas is gripping, and I was entranced each time they shared the screen. I would really be shocked if a heavy-hitter like NEON or IFC did not pick this up for U.S. distribution.
Paris Memories pieces together a fractured mind when it screens at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival on the opening night, September 8th.