Here’s another “hold review” old review. I saw this drama at a press screening before the 2010 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. At the time, I was told that it would receive a full release sometime after the festival. So I wrote this review and held onto it. Now, after waiting more than two years for that release, I’m letting you read the review. Hopefully you’ll be able one day to see the film.
B Holocaust drama.
I don’t envy any filmmaker who sets out to make yet another Holocaust drama. If there’s an angle to that huge atrocity that hasn’t been explored by other filmmakers—some of them brilliantly—I haven’t found it yet.
Neither, unfortunately, have director Ludi Boeken and his three screenwriters. Saviors in the Night is a respectable, well-made drama about German Jews hiding from the SS, sometimes in plain sight. The art direction and characterization successfully place you in a rural, German farm community that, reeling under war deprivations and government propaganda, is still a tight-knit community where everybody knows and looks after everybody else. The story of people living in constant danger holds you in suspense. You very much want to see these people come out of the war okay.
But it has nothing new to say about either the Holocaust’s victims or the few gentiles willing to risk their lives to save a persecuted people.
The night before the Jews of his town will be shipped off, never to return, a Jewish horse dealer asks an old army friend (both earned the Iron Cross in World War I) to hide his wife and young daughter. The friend, a farmer, accepts. Because the wife and child don’t look Jewish, and no one in the town knows them, they’re able to move about relatively freely, using false names and a made-up history (urban refugees weren’t unusual at that time, thanks to allied bombing of cities). The father, however, did business in the town and is easily recognized, and must find less comfortable hiding places.
The middle-aged town people, even those who consider themselves ardent Nazis, seem opposed to mass murder. Those not actively involved with hiding Jews are willing to turn a blind eye to those who are. The teenagers, on the other hand, are dangerous. They’ve been heavily indoctrinated since childhood, and view Jews as non-humans who should be destroyed—as should those who protect them.
But these teenagers are also just teenagers, flirting and fighting and eagerly going off to war as if it was a grand adventure. They’re scary, but the filmmakers make you feel for them. Not surprisingly, they’re the most interesting characters in the film.
Perhaps that’s why Europa, Europa, which was almost entirely about teenagers, was a better film.
Saviors in the Night has its share of clumsy moments. The music score has an annoying way of telling you that you should be scared. Two characters come bursting through a door laughing with joy, so you know they’re about to get some really bad news. The only character who really changes does so much too quickly.
But it has strong moments, too. There’s the mental toll of hiding in an attic for months on end with nothing to do, the terrifying moment of accidental revelation, the constant fear, and the frightening possibility that something could go horribly wrong after the Americans arrive.
Saviors in the Night was based on a true story. So were Europa, Europa, Schindler’s List, and The Pianist. This picture not only stands on the shoulders of the real people whose story it visualizes; it also stands on the shoulders of better films.