Tuesday, February 14, 2017

With FANNY'S JOURNEY, Lou Doillon delivers a worthwhile Holocaust movie for young adults

Holocaust-lite is a tricky sub-genre, producing everything from execrable schlock like Life Is Beautiful to more thoughtful, reasonable work like the new film, FANNY'S JOURNEY (Le voyage de Fanny), which opens this week. Basically, a movie for young adults, it treats the Holocaust in France seriously, not letting its audience view the horrors its victims endured but instead centering on the based-on-a-true story of one young girl, a thirteen-year-old named Fanny, who luckily managed to survive the ordeal, thanks to a number of decent folk who took care of her and other children, once their own families were no longer able.

As directed and co-adapted (with Anne Peyrègne) by Lola Doillon (shown at left), from the novel by Fanny Ben-Ami, the movie plays out like a very good escape thriller, but one that is made for an age range similar to that of the Fanny character and/or her older cohorts. Fanny's Journey is beautifully filmed (on some stunningly verdant locations in the French countryside) with period costumes, cars and the like all taking us back to the days of World War II Europe. The writing may be directed to the teen-age level, but it's a smart level -- with enough sass and wit to make the movie an easy watch for adults.

The story takes Fanny (newcomer Léonie Souchaud, above, center, who is excellent in the role!) and the other children, for whom she reluctantly becomes the necessary caretaker, almost immediately from one ersatz home to a new one, in which the stern by loving woman in charge (the wonderful Cécile de France, below) teaches Fanny some important lessons in strength, courage and endurance, which she will of course put to use later on.

Via some plot twists and turns, Fanny eventually has the responsibility of leading this group of children -- most younger than she but one several years older -- to safety. How all this occurs, along with how the children themselves work into the mix, sometimes helping, sometimes hindering, makes for an always engaging, often pretty thrilling experience.

As a filmmaker, Ms Doillon keeps the pacing swift and full of incident, and each of the actors brings his/her role to life well enough to create characters that are easily differentiated, one from the other, as well as memorable enough for this sort of genre. Train travel turns to walking and hiking, with a stop or two along the way, while trying to avoid the German soldiers and/or the not-so helpful French police.

Because the film is based on Fanny's own memoir/novel, we can rest assured that our girl remains alive and kicking. The film provides a good entryway into the Holocaust for newcomers and younger children who, as they grow, can enter the darker side via great adult works of art on the subject such as Lajos Koltai's amazing, one-of-a-kind Fateless.

Meanwhile, Fanny's Journey -- from Menemsha Films, in French with English subtitles and running just 94 minutes -- makes its U.S. theatrical debut here in South Florida this coming Friday, February 17 at The Movies of Delray and Lake Worth, The Last Picture Show in Tamarac, and in Boca Raton at the Living Room Theaters and the Regal Shadowood.  The 86-year-old Fanny Bel-Ami will be making personal appearances over the weekend at all these theaters. Click here and scroll down to view time and place. Will the film play elsewhere across the country? Hope so. Click here periodically to see if new playdates have been added.

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