EUFF 2013: The Consul of Bordeaux Review

The Consul of Bordeaux

The Consul of Bordeaux

There is nothing particularly striking in The Consul of Bordeaux, yet the real-life story of Portuguese consul Aristides de Sousa Mendes’s efforts to help save Jews stranded in Bordeaux, France during World War II is a mostly heartwarming tale. De Sousa Mendes issued tens of thousands of visas irrespective of applicants’ race, religion and nationality, including 10,000 Jews. While the film follows De Sousa Mendes’ heroic story, it’s framed as a flashback from the perspective of an elder maestro named Francisco de Almeida in present day.

A young journalist convinces De Almeida to tell his life story as a young Jewish boy under De Sousa Mendes’ protection, when she reveals knowing De Almeida’s real name, Aaron Apelman. Startled but charmed by the journalist’s friendliness, De Almeida recalls his impressions of the consul, who continued to register Jewish applicants even after Portugal forbade it. The film is peppered with the consul’s positive, humanitarian rhetoric against racist consulate employees who try to stop him, and though his proclamations are undeniably true the film feels too stagey for such dialogue to feel truly compelling.

The film does best when it illuminates the stressful but productive conditions under which De Sousa Mendes and his aides (De Almeida included) worked long hours in order to bust out as many people as possible—an area in which it can provide fruitful and authentic detail. Though De Almeida’s recollection should rightly include the warm, community-oriented episodes of his time in Bordeaux, the film’s artificiality hinders its ability to convincingly illustrate the characters’ imminent jeopardy. Thankfully, however, the film skips the Argo chase-capper approach as the characters try to leave France, and while it relies a little too heavily on convenient plot turns to conclude on a happy note, such contrivances also demonstrate the underlying non-conformist attitudes De Sousa Mendes was able to bring out in other people, including authorial figures. (Tina Hassania)

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Screens

Thursday, November 21st, The Royal, 6:30pm

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