Thursday, October 8, 2009

Une enfance volée: L'affaire Finaly (2008)

Last night I watched this on TV. It was based on a true story, yet very gripping, and I found my eyes stuck to the screen until the end. In 1944, the Finalys couple, Austrian Jews, afraid that they would be caught by Nazis, asked their neighbour to take care of their little sons: Robert and Gérald, with the message that they should not be separated and that if something happened to the parents, the aunt would take care of the children. Not long after, the Finalys couple were arrested. This kind neighbour would send the children to a convent, in the hand of Mother Blandine, and from Mother Blandine to Antoinette Brun. After the war, the children's aunt  who lived in Israel wrote to Brun to return the children, but Brun never replied. The aunt then asked the help of Moise Keller. The movie shows how Keller tried to obtain the children from Brun's hands.

The movie portrays Brun as a selfish woman and Catholic fanatic. She looks at Keller as if he is her enemy. After taking care of the Finaly children for years, she has grown so fond of them that she wants to keep them for herself. The French public support Brun because of her courage during the war as she has saved many children by hiding them from the Nazis. However, according to the law, the children must be returned to their family, and in this case, their aunt. The children themselves seem to have loved Mother Brun, although they only see her twice a year. [They are sent to a boarding school.] They do whatever she asks, love her as their own mother, and do not hesitate when she take them to be baptised. The baptism, however, at least in the movie, seem only to prevent Keller from taking the children.

After the baptism, the Catholic church help Mother Brun to hide the children. I am confused about their insistence, saying that 'baptism is permanent'. In my opinion, the children are too young to decide. At this point, the court has decided that the children should be returned to their aunt. The church even goes as far as giving the children false names and papers and taking them out of France by foot into Spain, to a convent where Robert is separated from Gérald and each cannot leave their room. It feels like a prison. I believe at this point, Robert, the eldest, must be thinking, if living with their aunt in Israel is much better. The boys think of Israel as a desert with many Jews. In the boarding school, their friends mock them for being Jews, so they believe it's better to keep staying in France and be Catholics. The involvement of the church almost make this affair into a religious war, but finally the cardinal has realized that the matter has gone into such a mess and he helps Keller to find the boys. After 7 years, finally the aunt can take the children to Israel.

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