(JTA) — A new cinematic adaptation of a memoir by Romain Gary, once one of France’s most famous Jewish authors, opens in New York on Friday.
Gary, born to Lithuanian Jews, was the only novelist to win the Goncourt Prize, or the equivalent of France’s Pultizer, twice — once using a pseudonym, since authors are only allowed to win it once. He became a literary celebrity and was married to actress Jean Seberg for eight years.
Both he and Seberg would eventually commit suicide (separately), after the end of their relationship.
Gary’s memoir “Promise at Dawn” was previously adapted into a film in 1970. The current one features Pierre Niney and Charlotte Gainsbourg (a star in her own right but also the daughter of French Jewish singer Serge Gainsbourg).
In the story, Gary’s mother Nina (played by Gainsbourg) lives for Romain (played by Niney), overpowering him with her love. The film follows the pair from Vilna to Nice during World War II, where one of the few constants is the anti-Semitism they both face.
The persecution doesn’t end when Gary enlists in the French Air Force. He does not pass because he is seen as sufficiently French enough — and a Jew. Ultimately he joins the free French Army and fights for DeGaulle while stationed in Africa. He flies several missions there and later in Europe, where he heroically saves his crew.
The film gets a national rollout after its New York debut.