"Farewell Mr. Haffmann" or the story of a "bastard under the Occupation"

CINEMA – “We have treated the heroes and resistance fighters a lot, and that’s normal. But rarely those who have collaborated or denounced their neighbors out of pure opportunism ”. It is therefore with this desire to “explore human darkness” that Fred Cavayé seized on the history of the play. Farewell Mr. Haffmann for a thriller adaptation, at the cinema this Wednesday, January 12. The trailer can be found at the top of our article.

In 1941, while German troops occupied Paris, Joseph Haffmann (Daniel Auteuil) was a jeweler, married and father of a family. And Joseph Haffmann is also Jewish. So when the wearing of the yellow star is decreed and the police organize raids, he decides to flee the capital. So that his business is not looted, he “sells” it to his employee François Mercier (Gilles Lellouche). With his wife Blanche (Sara Giraudeau), the couple moved into the apartment above the shop, while Mr. Haffmann was forced to hide in the cellar until he left for the free zone.

If the starting point of the play and the film is the same, the story then takes a completely different path. When the work of Jean-Philippe Daguerre begins its life on stage in 2017, Fred Cavayé and Sarah Kaminsky are already working on an adaptation scenario to make the character of François Mercier (Pierre Vigneau in the play) “a real bastard ”. “While we were writing, the play by my friend Jean-Philippe Daguerre was accumulating success and rewards, proof that their direction was the right one”, recalls the director for Then24, “So it made me apprehensive about showing him the movie.”

Gilles Lellouche as an anti-hero

In the Farewell Mr. Haffmann cinema version, the role played by Gilles Lellouche – for whom we naively take ourselves to empathize at the beginning of the film – plunges insidiously into the wrong side of history to the point of committing appalling acts (of which we will leave the suspense to the spectator). “I wanted to show how a man becomes a bastard, to explore the darkness of the human soul,” says Fred Cavayé. “Because it questions us all: what is it that causes a normal person to slip up and become a monster?”

Gilles Lellouche in the role of François Mercier in “Adieu Monsieur Haffmann” by Fred Cavayé

About the Occupation, “we have dealt a lot with the heroes, the resistance fighters and that’s quite normal. But rarely those who have collaborated or denounced their neighbors out of pure opportunism ”, assures the scenario writer who already made turn Gilles Lellouche in Point blank and MEA culpa and enjoyed filming the “disturbing psychological progression” of his anti-hero.

And if the historical bias is there, Fred Cavayé does not see it as a “period film” or even a “war film”. “It is above all a thriller, with a story that could take place in a much more contemporary period,” recalls the 54-year-old director. “We could just as easily transpose it to the North of France, with a migrant and a family who would take advantage of this situation and the distress of this person”.

Over the past two years, Fred Cavayé’s project will have lived it all: a shooting stopped by three months of total confinement in spring 2020 freezing a Parisian street in the past, a rewriting of the script to avoid scenes with too many extras, an exit several times postponed… But Fred Cavayé prefers to be positive, convinced that all these stages will have “made it possible to make the film better”.

Author and director Jean-Philippe Daguerre, who was among the first to see the film, found it “obviously different” from his work, but “formidable”. “Until then, the story is beautiful”, blows the director who now has only one hope: that the spectators will be at the rendezvous in the cinemas despite the rise of the epidemic.

See also on Le HuffPost: The trailer for “Ouistreham” by Emmanuel Carrère, adapted from the book by Florence Aubenas

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