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A Treacherous Journey “A Bag of Marbles”






Review by John Delia, Sr.

Very compelling and heartfelt, the true story A Bag of Marbles (Un sac de billes) shows the determination and courage of one family in France during World War II. While other films deal with combat with the enemy on foreign shores, this movie conveys one of many untold stories of the people caught up in it. This one becomes a journey so perilous that just a hint that you’re a Jew can send you to certain death. Seek out A Bag of Marbles at a local theater when it comes to your city, it’s truly astounding.

Joseph Joffo (Dorian Le Clech) relates his life in Paris when he was a boy in 1942. A fun loving child, he enjoys a good game of marbles with his older brother Maurice (Batyste Fleurial) or classmates. He’s well liked at school, but things are about to change. His Father and mother, Anna and Roman (Patrick Bruel) own a thriving barber shop and their two eldest boys Henri (César Domboy) and Albert (Ilian Bergala) work as barbers. His door sign reads “Jewish Business” as he is proud of his heritage.

Dorian Le Clech as Joseph and Batyste Fleurial as Maurice in Christian Duguay’s BAG OF MARBLES (All photos credit gaumont.

On this one day in May 1942 Joseph notice two SS Nazi soldiers approaching his father’s shop and he gives them the Hitler salute. They enter the barber shop and Roman greets them and allows them to take a chair without waiting. The men are impudent with their power and verbally show their disdain for Jews. As they pay their bill Roman retorts with “In this salon there are only Jews”. It’s a powerful comment, but at what cost.

Batyste Fleurial as Maurice, Patrick Bruel as Roman Joffo, and Dorian Le Clech as Joseph in Christian Duguay’s BAG OF MARBLES

With the Nazi storm moving into France, Roman makes his final decision. In order to survive Roman his wife Anna and the four boys must split up and leave Paris for the Free Zone. So begins a journey that will separate the family, put each of their lives in turmoil and become a desperate challenge that will change their lives forever.

Director Christian Duguay does a terrific job of making the period look real and foreboding at times. The drama comes early on and keeps his audience compelled throughout. Duguay then mixes in a little comic relief, a little romance and a brutal set-up for a finale dicey fourth act. Having an edge as his remarkable characters are real, being he had first hand interviews with family members who lived through the ordeal. Much like 2017’s release of Fanny’s Journey, the movie leaves a lasting memorial to those who had to flee their homes, businesses and lifestyle in order to escape the holocaust that was upon them.

A scene from A Bag of Marbles

The sets, locations, costuming, and weapons like other props are very representative. The detention center, homes, farms and other buildings nicely depict the early 1940’s France. I like the way Duguay mixes the darkness of the journey with some uplifting vistas in order to show hope among the tragedy of it all. The train station scenes, firing squad and the brutality by the Nazi’s looks authentic against anything I’ve seen of archive footage of the times.

Dorian Le Clech as Joseph and Batyste Fleurial as Maurice in Christian Duguay’s BAG OF MARBLES

As Joseph, the youngest of the family, Dorian Le Clech gives an impressive performance providing a character growing up during such a horrible time. At school he had friends who cared about him, but they turn on Joseph after the Nazi occupation when they find out he’s Jewish. Dorian shows how the boy comes to terms with the new hatred and does things he never knew he could along his perilous journey. As an actor this is Dorian’s first major film and he makes the film work.

A Bag of Marbles has not been rated by the MPAA, but contains some language, violence and brutality. The movie plays out in several languages including Yiddish, French and German with English Subtitles. If you bring young children you may want to prepare them with some history on the Nazi German temperament during WWII and their quest to commit genocide. If you have not seen the film Fanny’s Journey you may want to find a copy to watch after you have viewed A Bag of Marbles.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A powerful true story. (5 out of 5 Stars)

Additional Film Information
Cast: Dorian Le Clech, Batyste Fleurial, Patrick Bruel, Ilian Bergala, César Domboy, Elsa Zylberstein, Coline Leclère, Christian Clavier, Bernard Campan, Kev Adams, Christian Duguay, Fred Epaud,  , Laurent Zeitoun, Pierre Kiwitt,  Michaël Erpelding, Lucas Prisor, Romain Paul, and Jonathan Allouche
Directed by: Christian Duguay
Novel by: Joseph Joffo.
Genre: Drama, Foreign
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.
Release Date: April 20, 2018
Distributed by: Gaumont
Released in: French, German, Yiddish, Russian with English Subtitles

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