Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The 19th NYJFF opens at the Walter Reade with Ludi Boekens' SAVIORS IN THE NIGHT

Nineteen years already? Amazing. That's how long the increasingly popular New York Jewish Film Festival has been entertaining/
awakening us. This year's program, opening tomorrow at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater, offers a total of 32 features and shorts from 13 countries. Among its delights are two films I have seen, along with many that I haven't, so I'll tell you now about the opening night attraction, making its debut tomorrow, Wednesday, January 13 -- for two showings only: 1 pm and 6:15.

SAVIORS IN THE NIGHT (Unter Bauern) tells the true (movie-style, anyway) tale of a German farm family in Westphalia who, as much by happenstance as anything else, takes in a Jewish family (mother and daughter) and helps place the father on a nearby farm, risking its own demise in the process. We've seen this sort of thing before, most importantly in the amazing documentary Hiding and Seeking, but here, in a narrative form, we're allowed to discover all that a group of good writers (basing their work on the book by one of the actual participants, Marga Spiegel) and director Ludi Boeken
can build from reality.

"I served in WWI and was awarded Germany's Iron Cross for bravery," the narrator tells us at the outset.  "25 years later my country wanted to kill me." From there we're pushed quickly into hiding along with the family of three.  We meet their "saviors," some of whom (the farmer's wife, above) would rather not be, and then we watch them come 'round, however haltingly, to doing the right thing.  It's not easy, as this area of Westphalia is Nazi-ridden, with families asked to spy on themselves and others.  Oh, yes: and the daughter of the savior family, shown below, has a crush on the town's Nazi-youth leader.

Along the way we discover the perils of saving one's Jewish star, rather than destroying it, and other fine points of living-in-hiding under false identity.  While there are scenes of ratcheted-up sus-
pense, as must happen, it seems, in these Holocaust narrative films, the moments you are more likely to remember come by sur-
prise: the recognition by one of the women in a neighboring town, of our heroine, followed by the even greater shock of realizing what is going on -- and of what one's untimely recognition might do.

The acting is uniformly good, with the major plaudits going to those in the major roles.  Shown at right is the very beautiful Veronica Ferres, who plays the "saved" mother, Marga Spiegel.  (The old woman seated next to her, whom we see during the end credits of the film, is the real Marga Spielgel.) Martin Horn is excellent as the farmer dad who sets the saving in motion, and he is more than well-supported by Lia Hoensbroech, who plays his daughter, and Margarita Broich, as his wife.

As I say: two performances only, and -- though the film would seem to be a good candidate for art-house commercial release -- you can't count on any U.S. distribution.  Go, if you can.  I'll have more to come on this festival in the days that follow...

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