Bober, Robert

Updated About content Print Article Share Article
views updated


BOBER, ROBERT (1931– ), French writer and director of documentary films. Bober was born in Berlin in 1931, but the family fled with the rise of the Nazi regime in 1933 and settled in working-class neighborhoods of Paris. Bober left school early, just after completing the "Certificat d'Etudes Primaires" (end of primary school), and worked successively as a tailor, a potter, and an assistant for film director Francois Truffaut. Since being hired by French public television as a film director in 1967, he directed over 100 documentary films covering a variety of domains, some of them with renowned journalist and producer Pierre Dumayet, including portraits of 19th-and 20th-century French writers (Balzac, Flaubert, Proust, Valery, Dubillard, Queneau) or artists (Van Gogh, Alechinsky). A more intimate side of his work is connected to his own story as a Jewish refugee of Polish descent, born in Germany, who managed to live through the Holocaust: Refugie provenant d'Allemagne, d'origine polonaise (1975–76) exemplifies this search for his roots, which Bober traces back to Radom, in Poland. Several of Bober's films deal with Ashkenazi Jewish culture and yiddishkeit (Sholem Aleikhem, 1967; Martin Buber), or with the permanence of memory and remembrance (The Generation After, 1970–71). Photography was thus important to him, as a witness to a vanished or vanishing past. Bober was awarded a grand prize for lifetime achievement by the Societé Civile des Auteurs Multimedia in 1991. Subsequently he published two outstanding and deeply autobiographical novels, Quoi de neuf sur la guerre? (1993), and Berg et Beck (1999), the first one set in a Jewish-owned clothing factory, the second in a Jewish educational facility, both of them in the immediate aftermath of World War ii and both dealing in a very sensitive and low-key manner, yet powerfully, with Holocaust memories and the difficult way back to normal life for ordinary working people whose lives had been shattered. Both novels have been successfully adapted for stage.

Bober shared with writer George *Perec a similar personal history (Perec dealt with the Holocaust in the novel W ou le souvenir d'enfance), as well as with a childhood in the same eastern neighborhoods of Paris (the rue Vilin, which was the setting of an unfinished work-in-progress by Perec, mixing photography and text, became the subject of Bober's En remontant la rue Vilin, a tribute to Perec which won the silver prize at the fipa contest in 1993). Together they worked on a documentary film, Recits d'Ellis Island (1986), where, though not directly confronting the Holocaust, they dealt with stories of wandering and exile echoing their own stories.

[Dror Franck Sullaper (2nd ed.)]