A poignant portrait in the middle of the War! The same director of the winner film Yol, wrote and directed a remarkable and haunting picture about a Jewish boy who will experience in Poland the cruelties of the War in a double dimension: the Nazis and some nasty human beings in the town. A devastating, powerful gaze around the ashes of the War.
A Film That Is Both Moving And Challenging I made this selection based by "judging the book by its cover" so to speak. I saw Haley Joel Osmont on the cover, saw William Dafoe as a priest, quickly read the summary on the back and took no notice of the rating. I expected a kindly story about a young Jewish boy "rescued" by Christians in Poland during World War II and expected it to be moving and probably perfect for family viewing. Well, all I needed was one viewing to know I made wrong assumption, but making this wrong assumption and expecting a different film may be why this film moved me so.
The film tells the story of Romek, played by Osmont, who is sent to the Polish countryside to avoid being captured by the Nazis. The village may be remote, but it is hardly immune to the World War that is taking place. Romek has the expected scuffles with the village's children but eventually find his place. Yet he also experiences the horrors that cannot be avoided in such a story.
Perhaps what makes this film outstanding is that it is not a typical Holocaust survival film. The film accurately portrays the moral ambiguities that were very much a part of life during the Second World War, especially for Europeans. We see a different type of Catholicism, not the often stereotypes Catholicism that is all too often seen in films, but the unique strain of Polish Catholicism. There is plenty of conflict in the film on many different levels. There are tensions between Romek and the other children that are typical of children's interactions, yet we also know that some of the conflicts are at a deeper level when people suspect why Romek is living in the village. We see the atrocities of war, but we see it through the beautiful acting and writing of the film and not through graphic gimmicks.
There are a number of elements in this film that will catch the viewer by surprise and in the end, make the viewer think. It is worth watching and without question will cause the viewer to think about the bravery of so many during the Second World War, the atrocities that were all too much a part of it, and how easily we can take human rights for granted. Yet surprisingly, while it can have all these elements, and not have the happiest of endings, it is in the end uplifting because in its own way, the human spirit triumphs. A response to Grady Harp's review from a laughing Catholic Though I have yet to see the film, I will admit to being intrigued.
I just wanted to point out to Mr. Harp that there is a vast difference in saying "In the priest's cataclysm [sic] class..." as opposed to "catechism class," although I'm sure myriad fundamentalists would echo his sentiments.