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Movie Reviews

Paris Memories ★★★★



DirectorAlice Winocour

CastVirginie Efira, Benoît Magimel, Grégoire Colin

ReleaseAugust 4th 2023 

Virginia Efira’s range is boundless as she effortlessly moves between playing a lesbian nun to playing a police officer, a rom-com darling. In Paris Memories, she provides a soul-penetrating haunting depiction of a trauma victim. As such, it is unsurprising that she has finally received her flowers in the form of the Best Actress award in the 2023 César Awards for her portrayal of Mia in Paris Memories. Without a doubt, Paris Memories is an emotionally substantial, dramatic multi-faceted film with sufficient nuance for Efira to show off her acting chops. Indeed, she rises to the challenge and delivers an outstanding performance as a victim of a life-changing attack.

Paris Memories’ subject matter is likely to draw parallels to the 2015 targeted attacks in Paris, not least as director Alice Winocour’s brother was amongst the survivors. This may trigger some as the film immerses itself in Mia’s viewpoint. We follow Mia’s gaze on the day of the attack, where she seems distracted with her daily routine. The camera follows Efira’s Mia closely as she attends work as a translator for France Culture and has after-work drinks with her partner. Therefore there is a personal connection to Mia and her sentiments from the outset. When Mia observes others, we do too through close-ups and Winocour’s effective camera edits intercut to enable the audience to live vicariously through Mia viewing a smile from a fellow restaurant diner, a woman’s bare shoulders, and a birthday cake. The effect produces an intimate portrayal, and the devastation to Mia’s microcosm is felt acutely.

Indeed, these seemingly insignificant images, smells, and emotions trigger events embedded within our memories. Winocour, aware of the essentials to create emotional resonance and personal impact following 2019’s Proxima, explores these lingering moments fully. Winocour’s direction of Efira is flawless as Mia often seems distracted or on the cusp of fleeting memory, constantly observing events for that moment longer than the norm. This may be frustrating to the viewers but, equally, compounds that sense of Mia’s frustration, albeit never expressed. As such, there is an unexpected distance during some scenes that rely on expressive, messy emotions to enunciate. Therefore, Paris Memories is challenging to categorise as it equally defies and embraces a stereotypical path for onscreen trauma victims.

Indeed, Winocour and Efira are not prone to over-dramatising and over-acting to convey the relevant emotions. Instead, the pain is etched on Efira’s face as she struggles to piece together fragments of the incident and her life. Efira’s delivery is soulful yet disquieting as her expression may be misinterpreted as stoicism, with her confusion and discomfort masked. In Efira’s Mia, Winocour once again shines a spotlight on a woman working in a predominantly masculine environment, dismissing her feelings as she is told to move on past the experience. Equally, Winocour’s directional analysis of memory enables viewers to question whether we may always be reliable witnesses when confronted with the mind’s response to trauma.

Winocour may offer an emotional, fascinating character study through Mia’s attempts to regain her memories and identity; however, Paris also takes centre stage and is the eponymous character. In parallel, Paris is undergoing its healing and recovery following the tragedy. Winocour and Efira skilfully show Mia’s memories of Paris not only through flashbacks of aspects of her previous life but also via panoramic views of the changing dynamics of Paris. When Mia gazes into the distance to recollect elements of past trauma, her gaze cleverly sweeps the iconic sights of Paris from the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and the Parisian communities. This is not just a film for travellers but also one that delves into Paris’ heart, highlighting its diverse neighbourhoods and those rendered invisible and without a voice working being that kitchen counter, hospitality roles and within menial jobs.

Indeed, this spotlight on the underrepresented Parisian communities distinguishes Paris Memories by lending a degree of compassion to the workers that remain as the beating heart of Paris.

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