Farewell, Mr. Haffman (2021)

Written by:
Toba Singer
Share This:

At a time when antisemitic graffiti and slogans show up writ large amidst campus occupations that pre-empt Jewish students’ safe conduct to and from class and preview the grisly end-game horrors that a moribund capitalist system seeks to trumpet, and then deny or disguise, Fred Cavayé offers up a glimpse of how the workings of fascism sort moral fiber. The carefully laid plans, schemes, workarounds, bribes, and machinations we devise to save ourselves and our families, make for fascinating stories, but what about the small-fry yet gut-wrenching surprises—the wormy revelations that work their way up through the grimy surface to expose the capacity for human wretchedness that fascism invites and rewards?

In a small corner of Paris under German occupation, the Jewish jeweler Joseph Haffmann (the unredoubtable Daniel Auteuil) is determined to arrange safe passage out of the country for his wife and children and join them soon after. His departure plan goes awry and he is forced to broker an arrangement with his employee, François (a now-flinty, now-cavilling Gilles Lellouche), whom he convinces to take over his business and the apartment above it while he lives in the workshop below. 
François’ handiwork is favored by the Nazi officers and he begins to socialize with them as they more and more patronize his business. Blanche, François’s wife (the unflinching Sara Giraudeau), works in a laundry. She has been unsuccessful in attempts to get pregnant. It becomes clear that the fertility problem originates with her husband. He proposes a solution that awakens her to his true if invidious nature. 

As time goes on, the Nazi officers gift François with jewels that could come from nowhere but the homes of Jews who have been rounded up. They encourage him to use the stones in his designs. As the Nazi presence intensifies, so do the reactions of the film’s characters to the changing circumstances of everyday life. The pace of the story is, on the one hand, rapid enough for the viewer to sense the panic as Haffmann, François, and Blanche absorb how quickly the neighborhood has been disembodied, with Jewish-owned shops closed, neighbors gone, and expressions on the faces of the non-Jews who remain growing more grim by the day. On the other hand, the camera takes its time exploring the long-range impact of the occupation. It slowly pans the contents of a jewelry box that a Nazi officer brings to the shop, and the viewer begins to comprehend who those jewels belonged to before they fell into the thieving hands of the occupiers. These fascia, these bits and pieces, are the damning forensic tracings of a final solution that, while seeking to leave no Jew behind, excretes telltale traces of his or her life interrupted by the jackboot on the stair.  With each new clue, Blanche blanches, unable to reconcile her humble upbringing with the overshadowing might of the claque of Nazi officers who have succeeded in grooming her husband to become a late-to-the-party collaborator and beneficiary.

The camera dwells on the blank dead air of the emptied cobblestone streets. That colorless void contrasts with the honeyed hues of the interior of the tiny shop where the real drama unfolds. Here, the camera takes up each element in a scene, lit so that we may see how it reflects or affects the pernicious overlay and overtones of the German Occupation, living large in a tiny desolate corner of a Paris arrondissement.

Toba Singer

Like Stanley Kubrick, writer and director George Miller has only made 13 feature films in his 46-year career, but Miller...
Sound & Vision Visionary musician and artist Brian Eno—who produced Talking Heads, Roxy Music, David Bowie, U2, and Cold Play,...
That this film is billed as a comedy and a Cannes Film Festival selection, are two of life’s (very) little...
Search CultureVulture