Film-Forward Review: FUGITIVE PIECES

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Stephen Dillane (as Jakob) and Rosamund Pike (as Alex) 
Photo: Alex Dukay

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Written & Directed by Jeremy Podeswa, from the novel by Anne Michaels
Produced by: Robert Lantos
Director of Photography, Gregory Middleton
Edited by Wiebke von Carolsfeld
Music by Nikos Kypourgos
Released by IDP/Samuel Goldwyn Films
Language: English, Yiddish & Greek with English subtitles
Canada/Greece. 105 min. Rated R
With Stephen Dillane, Rade Sherbedgia, Robbie Kay, Rosamund Pike, Ayelet Zurer, Ed Stoppard and Rachelle Lefevre

An orphan of the Holocaust, an archeologist, and a post-war son of Holocaust survivors try to surmount Faulkner’s rueful insight that “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” In a Polish village in 1942, Jakob Beer (wide-eyed Robbie Kay) is barely seven when he sees, from his cupboard hiding place, his parents murdered and his beloved older sister dragged away by Nazis. He runs and buries himself in a peat bog, and is unearthed and rescued by Greek archeologist Athos Roussos (a spirited Rade Sherbedgia as an erudite Indiana Jones), excavating the Polish Iron Age equivalent of Pompeii just before Himmler claimed it as an Aryan heritage site.

The two save each other and hide out from the violence of the encroaching war on Athos’s Greek isle, gradually revealed through flashbacks after Athos and Jack settle in Toronto after the war. Gregory Middleton’s gorgeous cinematography (he also shot Podeswa’s similarly lush-looking The Five Senses) emphasizes the contrasting locations and years as the dark of Poland contrasts with the brilliant sunlight of Greece. Writer/director Jeremy Podeswa retains chunks of the luscious language of poet Anne Michaels’s novel through the warm narration and reading of the reminiscent journal of the adult Jake (Stephen Dillane, familiar most recently as the very thoughtful Thomas Jefferson in HBO’s John Adams series). The passing years are indicated by his hairline changes and the growth of neighbor Ben (played as a young man by Ed Stoppard), a composite of a couple of surrogate sons from the book. (That the actor’s father, the playwright Tom Stoppard, only recently discovered the family’s Jewish heritage adds another dimension to Ben’s portrayal.)

Both Athos and Jake become obsessed with completing their archeological/historical book, a memorial to Athos's colleagues who were murdered at the Polish site. Jake’s memories sensually throw him back to his childhood in Poland and Greece – triggered by hearing Yiddish spoken, hearing his sister’s favorite Beethoven piece, or, like Proust’s madeleine, the taste of poppy seed cake.

But most of Jake’s search for reconciliation with the ghosts of his mother and sister is reduced to his other relationships with beautiful women, who unfortunately come across more as Philip Roth fantasies than as three-dimensionally human. Alex (Rosamund Pike) is the sexually-aggressive blonde shiksa, who during Jake’s college days, is impulsively fascinated by this taciturn intellectual. And when Jake is a much older writer, he can finally let go of his past with the help of a young empathetic pan-European museum curator, Michaela (Ayelet Zurer from Nina's Tragedies). Despite the film’s sentimentality throughout and stopping at happier endings for most of the characters than in the book, the couple’s relaxed physical tenderness provides a ballast, a relief to all the passing on of loneliness and sadness from fathers to sons. Nora Lee Mandel
May 2, 2008



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