Emmanuel Finkiel

After a career as first assistant director to directors such as Jean-Luc Godard, Krzysztof Kieslowski and Bertrand Tavernier, Emmanuel Finkiel directed his own projects such as Voyages (1999), Casting (2001) or Nowhere promised land (2008). Most of the protagonists of each of these films belong to today's Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazim Jewry. Combining irony and tenderness, their stories focus on intensely emotional or painful circumstances, always treated with reserve. They describe larger-than-life characters and tell the history of Eastern-European Jewry. Finkiel's films have been screened all over the world and have won many prizes, including three French Césars.

In the first of the three linked episodes of French writer-director Emmanuel Finkiel’s delicate, poignant Voyages, a bus tour of Poland, by present-day French survivors of the Holocaust, the tour suffers a mishap: en route to Auschwitz from a Jewish cemetery, the bus breaks down. Insofar as they once cheated the fate of the Six Million, the current everyday circumstance resonates with the earlier momentous circumstance, if ironically. Elderly now, closer to the end than to the Holocaust, these individuals -tourists through life, like the rest of us- will never be able to unburden themselves of their guilty survival. Historically debt-ridden, they will go to their graves obligated to the Six Million. Some at least feel this way, for instance, Rivka, whose husband, accompanying her on the bus tour, cannot, however, comprehend her upended emotions.

Finkiel, who was an assistant director on the Three Colors trilogy (1993-1994), has adopted (in miniature) Krzysztof Kielowski’s procedure: each film or, in Finkiel’s case, each segment, has its own protagonist, its own story to tell, but there are shared characters in the thematically driven whole. None of the stories are ever completed in a conventional sense; each story loses itself, in two cases yielding to the next. Even death, when it someday occurs, will complete nothing; stories-lives-will simply stop. From Warsaw, the film moves to Paris and then to Tel Aviv.

In the second episode, Regine confronts the possibility that her father, long presumed to be among the Six Million, in fact survived; but is he her father? Incapable of being verified, is this re-found connection ultimately an encapsulation of all Holocaust-generated lost familial connections? In the final episode, Russian-born Vera searches Israel for a cousin of hers, bemoaning the loss of Jewish identity: “There seems to be no more Jews in Israel, only Israelis”. Hardly anyone even speaks Yiddish anymore.

Voyages, a Polish, French and Belgian co-production won the International Critics Award in Vienna.


Voyages, 1999, Film, 1h55’, Courtesy of the artist

Untitled (12th Istanbul Biennial), 2011 Biennale de Lyon