Thursday, January 29, 2009

Truly Unique, Defiance

Last Saturday, after some tenuous debate, Tuvia and I went to see "Defiance ," the much lauded true story staring Daniel Craig, Liev Schrieber and others. For those who don't know, the film is about a group of brothers -- of which I originally thought there were three, but as it turned out there were four -- who build a band of Jewish survivors/partisans in the forests of Eastern Europe (then-Poland, now western Belarus). The brothers -- Tuvia, Zus, Asael, and Aron -- help shelter hundreds in the forests starting in 1941, and at the war's end, there were 1,200 people who had been sheltered in the Naliboki forest.

The movie itself was surprising, compared to many Holocaust period films. I was shocked, and almost dismayed to see some of the violence committed by Jews on non-Jews and Nazis. Now, I want to explain myself so that people don't think I'm being sympathetic toward Nazis. I don't want to give anything away in the film, but there is a lot of vengeance killing, and although we later see that there is reversal where the brothers seek to save Jews, not kill non-Jews, it was incredibly difficult to watch. Many Holocaust movies portray Jews as timid, wanting to fight back but unwilling. This movie is quite the contrary, and this seeming anomaly is portrayed in conversations between Zus and a Russian military officer with whom he comes to work. It was an interesting aspect of the film that made it, well, all the more real.

What's more -- beyond the amazing musical score and cinematics and acting -- the movie became even more real when Tuvia and I learned that he knows members of the Bielski family. In fact, the grandchildren of one of the brothers even went to Tuvia's school! It is truly a small world when it comes to the Jewish community, but the reality of the film was magnified at that point.

This movie is perhaps most unique because we don't see Jews in a ghetto or in a camp -- we see them building homes in the forest, starving in the winter, fighting for their lives, traveling helplessly through bogs and marshes, creating relationships while knowing full well that their former families have died, and more. It's a unique perspective on Jews during the Shoah, and one that I have yet to see portrayed outside of this film.

I applaud the filmmakers, the actors (especially Liev Schrieber, who seems to make his way into every Shoah film on the planet), and those who take the time to view the movie. It's a beautiful story, just beautiful, and inspiring in ways that nothing else can compare.