“Only connect” could be the slogan of “Voyages,” a heartfelt, soberly engaging story of three elderly Jewish women seeking relatives, memories or roots lost in the Holocaust. Pic marks a sensitive feature debut for Emmanuel Finkiel, an experienced French a.d. and director of the Cesar-winning short “Madame Jacques sur la Croisette.” Film recovers from its low-key, inconclusive opening tales in a genuinely moving final episode set in Israel that subtly connects the character threads. Hardly an upbeat movie, it will have to hunt out specialized niches where its delicate, understated sentiments and refined lensing can be appreciated. Though its treatment of the women’s solitude is universal, it will be particularly meaningful to Jewish audiences.
A busload of elderly Jews is on a tour of Poland. Rivka (Shulamit Adar) is so lost in thought at an old Jewish cemetery that she gets momentarily left behind. The episode sets off her long-suppressed resentment toward her husband, who didn’t even notice she was missing. He reproaches her for constantly rehashing the past. Still, she realizes she hasn’t the courage to leave him, to change.
In the second story, set in Paris, Regine (Liliane Rovere) receives a phone call informing her that her father, whom she always believed died in a concentration camp, is alive and living in Lithuania. At the train station, she meets a very old man who barely recognizes her. He explains that after the camp was liberated, he started walking east and wound up behind the Iron Curtain, unable to return to Paris. There he remarried. Regine has doubts that he is really her father. But the spry old man, amazingly able to roll with life’s punches, soon makes himself comfortable in her life and family.
The film finally pays off in the last tale, centering on 85-year-old Vera (docilely played by non-pro Esther Gorintin), a sweet woman from Moscow who has been left alone in the world. She bravely followed her next-door neighbors when they emigrated to Israel. Vera spends a long, hot day searching for a cousin in Tel Aviv. At last she locates the woman, living happily in a big rest home. On her way back to her lodgings, Vera gets lost; Rivka, the woman from the first episode, invites her home to rest. They both speak Yiddish — which Vera is surprised to find few others do in Israel — and gently converse. A phone call adds a final connective thread to the story.
Lensing by Hans Meier in Poland and Paris has as essential clarity capable of expressing worlds in a single image, such as the passengers on two buses staring out the windows at one another and recognizing themselves. In Israel, Jean Claude Larrieu’s photography is warmer and closer to the main character, echoing Gorintin’s natural perf.