Auschwitz survivors reunite in A La Vie

À LA VIE (TO LIFE) (Jean-Jacques Zilbermann). Subtitled. 100 minutes. Opens Friday (May 20). See listing. Rating: NNN

Three Auschwitz survivors reunite 15 years later in this feature from Jean-Jacques Zilbermann. It’s based on his own documentary, Irene And Her Sisters, which is in turn based on his mother’s experiences.

After the concentration camp is liberated, Hélène (Julie Depardieu) returns to her family home in Paris and immediately begins searching for fellow prisoner Lily (Johanna ter Steege). It takes over a -decade for Lili to agree to meet her in the seaside town of Berck-sur-Mer. She brings along Rose (Xavier Dolan’s always wonderful muse, Suzanne Clément), another camp inmate.

The reunion is not entirely gleeful. Plainly all three are wounded in their own ways, and the relationships are complicated. Zilbermann -handles the effects of trauma sensitively – Rose, for example, is a compulsive shopper but reuses tea bags over and over. A sequence where they celebrate Shabbat with a Friday-night dinner becomes a tender meditation on faith and identity.

The opening scene, badly lit and confusing, gets the movie off to a poor start, and a subplot in which Hélène, now married to a man the Nazis castrated, considers having an affair doesn’t quite gel. But À La Vie (meaning “to life,” or “l’chaim” in Hebrew) carries a strong emotional charge.

Stay for the credits, when the real-life threesome sing their favourite song together. 

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