Nearly everything in Romain Gary’s “memoir” PROMISE AT DAWN is a tall tale, an exaggeration, or a outright lie. But as Adam Gopnik wrote earlier this year, there’s a difference between a fraud and a great fabricator like Gary, who played many characters—Resistance war hero, French consul general in Los Angeles, husband of Jean Seberg—in a life that began in 1914 in Lithuania and ended in 1980 in Paris with a self-inflicted gunshot.
“Even if the will toward art and the will to deceive others can be closely aligned, we readily distinguish between the liar and the littérateur. The fabulist wants to convey the dramatic experience of events, while the fraud wants to convey a false evaluation of them. The fabulist wants to dramatize himself; the fraud, to deceive others…
“Anyone who is an inspired storyteller, as Gary was, knows that the essence of good storytelling is not assembling a heap of facts but having the imagination to leap through an arc of bright truths to create a great curve of invention…”— Adam Gopnik*
Jules Dassin filmed Gary’s story in 1970. Éric Barbier has brought the memoir back to the screen in epic form, and will present the North American premiere as COLCOA 2018’s opening night selection.
The film stars Pierre Niney, French singer Nemo Schiffman as the teenage Gary, and Charlotte Gainsbourg as his larger-than-life stage mother who dreamed her son’s future—France, fame, and fortune—and then pushed him into it.
PROMISE AT DAWN, Monday, April 23, at 7:30 pm; and Saturday, April 28, at 1:40 pm.
DIRECTORS GUILD OF AMERICA, 7920 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood.
City of Lights/City of Angels French Film Festival: colcoa.org
*Adam Gopnik, “The Made-Up Man,” The New Yorker, January 1, 2018:
Pierre Niney as Romain Gary in Promise at Dawn. Image credit: Pathé.