Alice Winocour directs a quietly devastating drama about strength & meaning after trauma.
Alice Winocour’s Revoir Paris begins in a café. Mia (Virginie Efira), avoiding the rain, sits and drinks a glass of wine by herself, surrounded by other patrons. A birthday party for a middle-aged man, a few tourists, a couple having an argument, all of the classic situations are present. After spilling ink onto her hand, she heads to the bathroom, cleans up, grabs her belongings, and gets up to leave, when the two people in front of her are shot and killed.
Winocour’s drama starts in this scene of terror. Mia hides and survives, surrounded by bodies strewn across the floor. The rest of the 105-minute French film follows the remembrance of this event, the journey to solve the mystery locked inside Mia’s mind. Mostly, it involves Mia talking to the other members of this group of survivors, returning to the scene of the crime over and over again, forcing herself to relive the moments in which she almost died.
Efira, who is just as fantastic here as in 2022’s Other People’s Children, cements herself as an actor that elevates any project. She’s knowing without being over-the-top. She sits with the stillness, with the quiet that her character experiences. She can portray a range of emotions without needing an explosive monologue. Without Efira, Winocour’s project doesn’t work. With her, the drama stays even-keeled, emotional sans spectacle. Another French star, Benoît Magimel, provides a counterpart to Efira. His slight, small performance, and their odd chemistry gives the film necessary connective tissue.
That’s not to say that Winocour isn’t completely assured in the direction. The French screenwriter, most known for her César Award-winning script for 2015’s Mustang, returns with her fourth directorial feature. She has such confidence in the words that her characters are speaking, and a clear understanding of Mia. Winocour looks to Mia to channel our fears when it comes to trauma, memory, and selfishness. She’s a filmmaker that always pulls strong lead performances from her actors, working with top French talent at every turn.
Revoir Paris’s success hinges on Efira and one sticky plot point. When Mia attends a support group, another survivor accuses her of locking herself in the bathroom. She contends that Mia stayed safe, while leaving others, those outside the bathroom trying to get in, to die. It triggers a major part of this journey for Mia, a need to understand what she did in those moments after she heard gunshots. It forces her to seek out others, to think about her own intentions, to prove to herself that she’d never do such a thing, even if that response could be seen as, nothing short of, understandable.
This point hammers Revoir Paris into the minds of the audience. It puts viewers further into the chaos, into their own thought processes. I couldn’t help but take both sides, see both angles, figuring out how I’d feel in either situation. This mystery advances the film above others in this genre, exploring the fear and danger of our current times, especially with a seemingly endless uptick in gun violence in Western countries. It’s treated with control and guidance; Winocour won’t allow the film to become fantastical or melodramatic.
She finds such beauty and hope in the moments before and after death. How two strangers kiss because they believe the last moments are coming; why a cook and a patron might hold hands and not let go until long after the shooting has stopped; the need to be intimate with another person who has shared this experience — Winocour finds grace in all of it. And for this, Revoir Paris is a film unlike anything else this year.
Revoir Paris is now playing in select theaters.