Monday, March 26, 2012

Two New World War II Films

Along with the films for the World War II class I am taking, there have been a couple newer films on the subject out recently. In an ideal world, I might have seen Red Tails - but it came and went almost before the class got started, and before I really thought about making a point of seeing any WWII films that might appear. But since then, a couple other films have come out, and now, I'm looking for them.

In Darkness (12/15) - An excellent film directed by Agnieszka Holland about a Polish sewer working in Lvov, who saves a group of Jews when the Ghetto is liquidated. He starts as an amoral scoundrel of sorts, robbing abandoned houses, skulking around the sewers - he finds some Jews who are looking for a way out of the ghetto, and offers to help them escape, for a price of course. When the Germans close the ghetto, a good many Jews get out through the sewers - he ends up hiding a dozen or so of them in the depths of the system. Meanwhile, the Germans and their Ukrainian allies are looking for Jews - they get a good many of them, but not his. He has a friend, though, a Ukrainian who knew him from prison - this friend has joined the Nazis, is an officer of some sorts - and tries to recruit him in the effort to find the Jews in the sewers. So our hero plays a double game. It is something of a familiar story - he starts as an opportunist, but becomes more and more committed to helping the people he is hiding - he becomes heroic. The film also does a good job of filling in the other characters - the Jews are developed - one is heroic; one is rich; others are faithless, others are weak, several of them emerge as fairly well rounded character. In all aspects of the world of the film, Holland is attentive to the devisions between people, the calculations of class and wealth and ethnicity. It is a very fine film, suspenseful and rich. The hero, Leopold Socha, was a real figure, who did just what the film shows, sheltering a group of Jews in the sewers of Lvov throughout the war...

Free Men (9/15) - A similar story, of Muslims in Paris protecting Jews and working with the French resistance. This too is centered on a real person, Si Kaddour Benghabrit, rector of a mosque in Paris who used his position to help fugitive Jews and others during the occupation. The film concentrates, though, on a fictional character, a young Algerian named Younes. He starts as a spy for the police, but soon discovers that a musician he admires and befriends is Jewish - and so switches sides. Before long he is working with the resistance, and with the mosque to protect Jews (including the musician), as well as resistance members, political refugees and so on. The musician in the film is Salim Halili, another real person, apparently a very great musician. (That link provides a fine example of his music.)

It's a good film - it's a fascinating story, suspenseful and sometimes moving - though a bit disjointed at times, and maybe a bit too willing to go for the cliche. We get 2 big ones - the kid-going-back-for-her-teddy scene that seems to be a requires feature in any films of this sort... and the "bad guy shot from behind by unseen good guy just before he kills one of the heroes", bit... And we get episodes, details that don't go anywhere - the revelation that the singer is a homosexual is - just there. Younes sees him with a man - but - so what? It's a strange moment... But that aside - pecestrian as the film is at times, it is a gripping story, well made, acted (the great Michael Lonsdale plays Benghabrit), with some really fantastic music - a very worthwhile movie...

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