Tue January 6, 2009
A powerful reminder
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
Jews have had a difficult time countering the opinion that they did not resist the Nazis enough, even in the face of Casablanca's hero, Victor Laslow, and the heroics of Escape from Sobibor, a challenge of conscience as all German guards had to be killed in order for 600 Jews to escape. Defiance needs to be added to the list of powerful reminders that Jews defied the Nazis in numbers and spirit.
Daniel Craig, effacing any overt images of James Bond, plays Tuvia Bielski, leader of a rag-tag group of survivors in the Belarussian forest for years, and two other brothers (Liv Schreiber and Jamie Bell), who revenge the slaughter of their family and help hapless Jews by building a village. Although the encounters with the Germans tend to have the unreal simplicity of electronic games, the danger of living in the almost idealized forest is palpable, and the imminence of death is constant. An outbreak of typhus reminds us that this is no arbor romance out of Shakespeare.
At times it seems director/writer Edward Zwick tries to make a thriller out of a true story, thereby doing almost an injustice to the horror of the history. My own taste now, after seeing two other Holocaust stories this fall?Boy in the Striped Pajamas and The Reader?leads me to like best the simple fiction of Pyjamas, which figuratively embodies all the contradictions of heroism and cowardice in a small family of Germans no less. None can compare with Night and Fog, Alain Resnais' unremitting visual reminiscence of the horror juxtaposed with contemporary shots of historic bucolic death camps.
Defiance effectively relates the tumult and degradation of running from an enemy while entertaining with an almost Hollywood vision of a magical forest and enchanting visitors.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time and Cinema Classics shows, which can be heard streaming at http://publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/ppr/index.shtml and on demand anytime at http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/arts.artsmain