The Man in the Basement (2021)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Philippe Le Guay
Run Time
1 hour and 54 minutes
Not Rated

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★4.5 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with the wicked to act as a malicious witness.

Exodus 23:1
Their tongue is a deadly arrow;
    it speaks deceit through the mouth.
They all speak friendly words to their neighbors
    but inwardly are planning to lay an ambush.

Jeremiah 9:8
Simon quickly regrets selling his basement to Jacques. (c) Greenwich Entertainment

Director Philippe Le Guay and writers Gilles Taurand and Marc Weitzman raise important issues of Antisemitism, of free speech, and its limitations in this complex story of a comfortable French family. The story, based on a true incident, might unfold far from our shores where English is a second language, but it pertains to us as well.

Simon and Hélène Sanberg are a Jewish couple who decide to sell their dank basement. The buyer is Jacques Fonzic (François Cluzet), a mild mannered former history teacher. Instead of using it for storage, Jacques moves in, obviously intending to make it his residence. Neighbors complain, but when the former owners confront him, he refuses to move out. The Sandbergs learn that he has the law on his side because they signed the papers.

There follows a traumatic series of events, with the couple discovering Jacques is a neo-Nazi who denies that the Holocaust happened. To their horror the man influences their teenage daughter Justine (Victoria Eber) with his argument that he is just a man questioning accepted beliefs. He points out to hr how the usual history of North America omits the tragic slaughter of millions of Native Americans by the settlers, thus drawing an analogy between that and the accepted story of the Holocaust.

The couple hire a lawyer, but Simon’s increasing agitation over what seems to be unjust events creates more problems. The anti-Semite also ingratiates himself with some of the tenants of the condo, who then decline to go along with Simon’s attempt to get the members of the building association to evict the man. We see how anger and fear can warp a defender of truth so that he becomes an obstacle to his goal. Jacques is able to manipulate matters so that he becomes the victim and Simon the persecutor.

The film even raises the question of does evil and untruth have any rights in a democracy—in other words, are their limits to free speech? And if so, what are they? Actually, it is in the first half or two-thirds of the films that one might entertain such questions. As tempers rise to the boiling point and Jacques calm demeanor melts before his rage, he reveals the hatred that underlies Holocaust denial, and thus the danger that truth denial entails. The filmmaker sticks to France, but viewers in our country cannot escape thinking about those who continue to deny the results of the 2020 election despite the evidence that there was no fraud—over a hundred of this breed are serving in Congress, and their chief might well become the next nominee of the GOP for President in 2024. This is a film that challenges—and disturbs, there being no happy ending.

This review will be in the March issue of  VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.

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