Dir. Rose Bosch, France/Germany/Hungary 2010, Dur.125 mins, in French, German and Yiddish with subtitles
Cast: Jean Reno, Melanie Laurent, Gad Elmaleh, Hugo Leverdez
Review by Carlie Newman
For once this is a film that is actually real, rather than one just ‘based on reality.’ Dealing with the events of July 1942 in occupied Paris, when Jewish families were rounded up, arrested and then deported, it is a harrowing story, at the centre of which is Joseph Weisman (Leverdez), an 11 year-old boy. Director Rose Brosch, has researched her subject well, and she gives a graphic account of a small group of people, who were part of the massive round up on 16th July of Jewish families, including the very old and sick as well as children.
Although they are friendly with their non-Jewish neighbours, when it comes to the crunch Joe and his Jewish friends are among the more than 13,000 Jews, who are arrested and taken to the Winter Velodrome (Veledrome d’Hiver), where appalling conditions greet the children and their parents: very poor sanitation and little food or water. Annette Monod (Laurent), a Protestant nurse arrives at the Velodrome to assist the Jewish doctor, David Sheinbaum (Jean Reno). She works well with the children, forming attachments to some of them, so that when they are transferred to an internment camp at Beaune-la-Rolande in France, Annette accompanies them. From there the adults are sent on by transport allegedly to work camps in the east, but actually to the gas chambers of the extermination camps, while Sheinbaum persuades Annette to stay with the children, who are now without their families. With the encouragement of his mother as she leaves him, young Joe manages to escape with a friend, taking jewels and money hidden by the family in the toilets before departing. The rest of the children leave on a train thinking they are to be re-united with their parents, but they too, are going to their deaths.
From time to time we see scenes of Hitler being very nice to small children; feeding and playing with them on the terrace of his Berghof. And although the film gives credit to the many ‘good’ French citizens who hid adults and lots of children, we also see the French police collaborating with the Nazis.
It is very hard to convey the feeling of the huge numbers of individuals and families, who suffered and were murdered in the holocaust, but this film succeeds in giving reality and substance to the enormous number of Jews in France, who went to their deaths in the camp, including 111,400 Jewish children.
The story will have you weeping, not only because of the horrific subject matter, but also the performances of the main characters that we come to know and care about. Reno in particular gives a mature, but not over-sentimentalised performance, as does Elmaleh as Schmuel, father of the Weismann family, while young Hugo Leverdez, making his screen debut, has already been rightly acclaimed in his native France for his portrayal of Joseph.