Defiance has been on our “to be watched” list since it first came out. Rob is a big fan of the actors--Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber--and I am always interested in watching “period” movies. I had never heard about the Bielski partisans, which is surprising to me because I went through a period of devouring everything I could read about any resistance during World War II. It is a remarkable story, one that should be remembered and shared. I am sure that there are moments created for dramatic effect but it is easy to forgive the need to “entertain” in the face of a well told story.
I do recall hearing about one thing before seeing the movie. Some of the descendants of the survivors had gone to see the movie and saw the dramatization of their grandparents getting married. During that scene, I started tearing up, deeply moved by the awareness that the cost of survival is all the more remarkable in the face of seemingly impossible odds.
The Pianist also takes place during World War II, this time mostly in and near the ghetto in Warsaw. Also based on a true story, this movie is both larger and smaller, focusing as it does on the experiences of one man, Wladyslaw Szpilman, through the wonderful direction of Roman Polanski who has the uncanny knack of making the horrific visually beautiful without flinching from the brutality of the moment.
(I should also confess that although I love Roman Polanski's direction, I am not one to easily dismiss his past and am content with his continuing to live away from the United States. I don't go out of my way to either see nor to avoid seeing his movies because I can admire his work without admiring him.)
God On Trial is a possibly apocryphal account of an event that occurred in Aushwitz, where a group of Jewish men, some Biblical scholars, put God on trial in absentia for not fulfilling the promises he made in the Abrahamic covenant. Much of this BBC production feels more like a stage drama than a film and whether the events depicted actually occurred or not is irrelevant. No doubt many Jews questioned God during the Holocaust and the final moments . . . I cannot even put into words . . . it is all too . . . “perfect.” That is the word. The ending, horrible and brutal and tragic, is also perfect. There is a line in this drama that will forever stand as perhaps the most profound moment on film, especially in the context of what may or may not be fiction. Chilling and beautiful–the climax left me breathless.
Absolutely one worth seeing.
Finally, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a purely fictional story based on a novel. Told through the naive perspective of a young boy, the inevitable conclusion is poignant almost in spite of itself. Perhaps this movie is the easiest to approach because of the perspective. The innocence of the two boys, one the son of a Nazi soldier and the other a Jewish prisoner, is heartbreaking from the very first moments of their meeting. How do you forge a friendship across an electrified fence? And there is something honest and vulgar about how the opening moments include little boys playing at war, as if such things were merely games for little boys to be playing.
In spite of its tone and the intention it established to emotionally tug at the audience's heart, I did not cry at the ending, probably because it did not come as a surprise. Or maybe I'm not compassionate enough.
I don’t know if I would recommend any of these with the same urgency as I did Bent, which in some ways shares the same small tone as the last two movies. I certainly prefer God on Trial over The Pianist, although the latter is visually more compelling. Defiance is Hollywood trying to be relevant. And while all of these movies are good, some are more accessible than others. I have to say that I “enjoyed” all of them on different levels and for very different reasons, if enjoyment is what one gets in seeing such a dark episode in history dramatized.
If I were to rank them in the order to which the impacted me after having watched them, I would say the order goes as follows:
- God on Trial
- The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
- The Painist