The Bloom of Yesterday is one of the most unique films I’ve seen this year. At times it is a portrait of some of the most abrasive people ever depicted on screen, but it is also an honest and unblinking look at the effect of tragedy on successive generations.
Toto Blumen (Lars Eidinger) is a Holocaust researcher who is prone to anger, outbursts, and is deeply unhappy. It takes a special kind of person to shame other Holocaust researchers for not taking their subject seriously or properly honoring the memory of the victims, but Toto does it masterfully, rendering colleagues weary with warnings about taking corporate money or eating snacks in a conference room that features pictures of Auschwitz. In a leadup to a major academic conference on the subject, Toto is assigned an intern, Zazie (Adèle Haenel). She appreciates Toto’s academic work, but also seems to be infatuated with his new boss Balti (Jan Josef Liefers). She is the granddaughter of a victim, and struggles with the weight of the Holocaust and how much of an impact she feels it has had on her life.
In one view, writer/director Chris Kraus is making an absurd comedy of errors, where Murphy’s Law is run wild on the universe. Patrons wish to pull out of the conference due to the death of the Institute’s leader, Toto and his wife are navigating her permission to see extramarital sex partners due to his impotence, and a dog gets tossed out of a moving car (he’s fine, just a little concussed!). There are moments of dark levity all throughout the film, and they are almost always the byproduct of Toto and Zazie having intellectualized their feelings, losing touch with their physical selves, and those feelings becoming expressed in unexpected and dramatic ways.
Both characters’ entire lives have been shaped by this genocide. Toto is ostracized by his family for writing about his grandfather’s Nazism, and Zazie has a form of inherited survivor’s guilt. For his part, Toto has become entirely obsessed with the Holocaust, eschewing any aspect of his life that isn’t related to his academic pursuit as a way of making reparations. But his guilt is so internalized that it dominates how he relates to everyone else in his life. Zazie goes through a cycle where she wants to enjoy life and the freedoms that her grandmother never could, but also has breakdowns over riding in a Mercedes or sleeping with German men out of guilt.
And while the film plays some of these manifestations as absurd, it isn’t so that they may be dismissed. The absurdity only reinforces how difficult it is to communicate these feelings. And as more and more living witnesses to the Holocaust pass into history, it is our responsibility as descendant generations to keep the memories and awareness alive.
The Bloom of Yesterday screens Sunday, November 19 at The Gershman Y. Tickets and screening details here.
Author: Ryan Silberstein
Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights
as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.