Holocaust movies that offer nothing new

Fugitive Pieces and Spring 1941 are two new WWII-themed movies. Unfortunately, they disappoint.

Spring 1941 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Spring 1941 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
SPRING 1941 Directed by Uri Barbash. Written by Motti Lerner, based on the works of Ida Fink. 122 minutes. Hebrew title: Aviv 1941. In English, with Hebrew titles. FUGITIVE PIECES Directed by Jeremy Podeswa. Written by Podeswa and based on a novel by Anne Michaels. 108 minutes. Hebrew title: Resesim. In English, Greek, Yiddish and German, with Hebrew titles. Two movies that opened here recently, Uri Barbash's Spring 1941 and Jeremy Podeswa's Fugitive Pieces, are both made by Israelis and/or feature Israeli actors in the cast, and both deal with the same theme: the Holocaust and its aftermath. Despite the filmmakers good intentions and many talented actors' opportunity to shine, neither film adds much to what we've already seen portrayed in previous films on this tragedy. Uri Barbash is one of Israel's best known directors, who made one of the most famous films in the country's history, Beyond the Walls (1984). That drama, which featured a tough Israeli criminal who joins forces with a Palestinian terrorist behind bars to fight the corrupt prison system, touched a nerve with audiences and was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. But in Spring 1941, he doesn't demonstrate anything close to the assurance he did in the earlier film. In fact, Spring 1941 is so obvious and often clumsy that it looks as if it were made by a young, inexperienced director. All the ingredients are good: The movie is based on a story by Ida Fink and features an international cast headed by Joseph Fiennes, best known for his portrayal of the title character in Shakespeare in Love. It goes back and forth between the seventies and forties and follows the fortunes of the Planck family. The father, Artur (Fiennes), is a Jewish doctor in Warsaw and the mother, Clara (Neve McIntosh in the early section, Clare Higgins in the later sequences) is a violinist. They have two daughters and live a comfortable life, until the Germans invade. They then go into hiding, turning to Amelia (Kelly Harrison), a peasant who's the doctor's patient. She hides the family in her attic with surprisingly little reluctance. But, there's an ulterior motive: Amelia is in love with Artur. Since he is supposed to look the least Semitic, Amelia has Artur pose as her absent husband's relative who helps her around the farm. As she teaches him the the tasks of the farm, they begin an affair. It's never clear whether he's playing along to insure Amelia's continuing help or if their passion is mutual. Clara is understandably devastated by this romance, which ends up affecting the entire family's fate. The story is interspersed with flashbacks of Clara, now a concert soloist, visiting Poland on tour with her grown daughter and trying to reconnect with Amelia. This may sound engrossing but, other than the family's harrowing escape from Warsaw, it is mawkish and cliché-ridden. Characters demonstrate their feelings with soap-opera villain expressions and every plot turn is telegraphed long in advance. Many psychological issues are raised here, but not explored in any depth. The actors do they best they can, and Fiennes and McIntosh are particularly good. But the film doesn't work. The odd, shifting accents in this English-language film add to the air of artificiality. Fugitive Pieces is a more interesting film about a Jakob, a Polish boy who survives the Holocaust when he is taken in by a Greek archaeologist, Athos (Rade Serbedzija, who played the sadistic lover in Love Life) and moves to Nazi-occupied Greece during the war. Later, he and his benefactor settle in Canada, where he is haunted by the loss of his family and becomes a Holocaust scholar. His marriage to a free-spirited flower child type (former Bond girl Rosamund Pike) doesn't do much to shake him out of his funk, but when he meets the cosmopolitan but compassionate Michaela (Ayelet Zurer, one of Israel's leading actresses), he is finally healed. While this movie is earnest and tries to portray every emotion with as much nuance as possible, it has long, slow stretches. As it went on, I became impatient for the arrival of Zurer, who greatly enlivens the film. Podeswa, who adapted Anne Michaels' novel for the screen, gives the impression of being so respectful of the material, he never quite allows it to come alive. The actors are wonderful, especially Stephen Dillane as the adult Jakob and Robbie Kay as the child. Dillane, who often acts on stage, recently appeared as Thomas Jefferson in the HBO series, John Adams. But in the end, Fugitive Pieces is a laudable film rather than an engrossing one.