The Thinking of Speaking
Issue #26 March / April 2017
At the Cinema
Un Sac de Billes
by Olivier Elzingre
March / April 2017 | 

Un Sac de Billes
1h 50min
18 January 2017 (France)

Country: France / Canada / Czech Republic
Language: French

I was particularly excited by the film selection in Melbourne's French Film Festival this year as one of my all times favourite biographical novels was listed: Un Sac de Billes, published in 1973.

I read this book as a teenager, when it was on my high school reading list for the French class – my schooling was done in French, so we are not talking about a novel in a foreign language here.

The novel was written by Joseph Joffo, a well-known author, whose most famous work is probably this one. In this novel, Joffo tells of a dark period of his life as a 10 year old by during WWII, escaping occupied France (the North) into the free zone, in the South. The Joffo family lived in Paris.

In those two scenes, the marbles represent childhood and innocence, something that Joseph holds onto through his quest to save his life.

Life in occupied France had become increasingly dangerous for Jews, and most especially following the compulsory wearing of the yellow Star of David, designed to identify them as Jewish and therefore restrict their movements. On their first day of wearing the Star, Joseph and Maurice were involved in a fight at school.

Joseph and his older brother Maurice were told by their parents that evening that they needed to leave their apartment.

That night, then, they boarded the train for the South of France in an effort to cross the border into the free zone.

From that moment, the Joffo brothers experienced both the best and the worst of humanity. Their will to live were severely tested and they even found themselves in a position to forgive their tormentor.

The movie followed the book quite closely, and even having read the book many years ago, I recognised that many of the dialogues had been left unchanged.

The acting in the movie was excellent. Joseph (Dorian Le Clech) most particularly does an incredible job of translating the boy's experiences and feelings onto the screen. Another notable performance is that of Patrick Bruel, who plays the boys' father.

Unfortunately I did not focus on the subtitles since I didn't need them. I could not comment on their quality.

If you get the chance to see this movie, make sure to arm yourselves with tissues.

There is little mysterious about the significance of the bag of marbles. The opening scene, both in the movie and in the book, finds Maurice and Joseph playing a game of marbles. Joseph loses his favourite marble and begins to cry. Maurice returns it to him. In a later scene, a boy from Joseph's class exchanges a bag of marbles against Joseph's yellow star. That boy had interpreted the star as something very positive, like a gold star. In those two scenes, the marbles represent childhood and innocence, something that Joseph holds onto through his quest to save his life. The metaphor continues through the movie until the final scene. Though not mysterious, its message is poignant and well constructed.

I admit my bias towards this movie. I loved it. I loved that it made me cry and laugh, I loved that I could see elements of my son in Joseph, that it respected the book, and that after the credits, there was a picture of Joseph and Maurice now in their old age.

This is the second time this novel was made into a movie, the first time in 1975 ( I have not seen this version, so will not comment on it. However, for those who would like to compare cinematographic styles, they might seek it out.

Others may be particularly interested in the French language, compare the novel to the movie and checkout the subtitles. In addition the novel also exists as a graphic novel (

Finally, the scenery is interesting as the viewer gets a glimpse of 1940s Paris cobblestones, small villages and towns and even the beginnings of Nice as a resort.

If you get a chance to see it, don't miss it.

At The Cinema - Un Sac de Billes
Writer: Olivier Elzingre
• "Un Sac de Billes" Internet Movie Databas <>
All images are copyright Quad Productions, Main Journey, Gaumont, TF1 Films Production, Forecast Pictures

All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.


comments powered by Disqus
Subscribe now
and never miss an issue!

In this issue:

Missed something?
Find previous issues in the archives.

Become a Patron and help support us


Subscribe to Parrot Time!

Copyright © 2013-2018 Scriveremo Publishing