2007 - Canada - 99 minutes
Director - Paolo Barzman
Writer - Jefferson Lewis from the novel by Matt Cohen
My Rating - 4 of 5 Stars
This is a little gem of a film with superior acting and breathtaking visuals. It does not appeal to a wide audience and never got wide distribution. I'm not even sure it was ever shown commercially in the United States. It is the type of film that causes fans of good acting and production to be grateful for DVD's.
The story and the characters may be a bit exaggerated, but that can be forgiven because the viewer is offered insight into some extremely interesting personalities.
In 1942, Melanie Lansing was the pubescent daughter of American Jews living in France. It is not fully explained in the film, but Melanie has been separated from her parents and sent to Drancy. Drancy (Link) was a transit camp not far from Paris where those unwelcome in the Nazi world were prepared from shipment to concentration camps. At Drancy, Melanie meets Christopher Lewis who is an Irish lad about her same age. Christopher introduces Melanie to Jakob Bronski who is a young Jewish scholar in his twenties. Jakob is able to bribe the officials so that Melanie and Christopher are not sent to concentration camps in Germany. Just as Jakob is being packed off to a concentration camp, he gives Melanie a book with the obligation to record all who pass through Drancy. These events exist as Melanie's memories in the film that takes place in 1985.
Melanie Lansing Winters lives on a small farm in an idyllic setting in Eastern Canada with her husband David who is a semi-retired college professor. Also at the farm for a momentous event in Melanie's life are her son and grandson. It seems that Melanie has spent her life in support of oppressed groups of people and she has tracked down Jakob who was first sent to a German concentration camp and then to a Russian camp. In both he suffered unspeakable tortures both physical and psychological. Melanie has invited Jakob to her home offering him a place to stay for the rest of his life. It is clear from the beginning that her husband is not as enthusiastic about this plan as Melanie for reasons that will be exposed as the story continues.
Jakob arrives at the airport with a somewhat unsettling surprise for Melanie. He has brought Christopher with whom Melanie had lost contact. Christopher has nurtured his love for Melanie for over forty years and hopes that she returns his feelings.
The action in this tale takes place during one weekend and at a welcoming dinner for Jakob that Melanie has arranged. During that time we gain insight into Melanie, her husband, David, their son Benjamin, Christopher, and Jakob. The story revolving around this forty-three year old encounter is a bit weak, but the characters are solid as concrete as their emotions can be applied to anyone, anywhere, at any time.
A powerhouse of actors bring these characters to life.
Christopher Plummer is husband, David who appears first as an unfeeling lunk but emerges as a complex man whose life has been shaped by his love for an obsessive woman.
Roy Dupuis is solid as a son who has had to endure a life dominated by two opposite poles of overwhelming parents.
Dakota Goyo is beautiful as the grandson who is able to touch the innocence still contained in all of the wounded adults around him.
Gabriel Byrne is perfect as Christopher, a successful man still gripped by a love that began almost a half century ago.
Max von Sydow gives a hypnotic performance of a man who has suffered unimaginable tortures and has survived to live the last of his life in a peace created by his own mind.
The unstable and fanatical Melanie is played by Susan Sarandon. Has she ever given a bad performance? In this film, she gives us a woman who is basically unlikable, but her considerable acting talent forces us to care and emphasize with the emotionally damaged Melanie.
From the description, you may think that this is a tragic tale about a group of lost souls, but the DVD title is a spoiler to the conclusion of the film. This is a beautiful story of lost souls found, and it is solid, solid entertainment.
August 4, 2008