Fanny’s Journey: Children on the run

A Holocaust thriller
Written by Lola Doillon and Anne Peyregne; based on the book by Fanny Ben Ami
Directed by Lola Doillon

[Note: I wrote this review, after previewing the film before the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, with the intention of posting it before the picture’s theatrical release. I changed my plan Sunday morning, when I discovered that Fanny’s Journey will be available on several pay-per-view streaming services this Tuesday.]

Nothing notches up the suspense like a movie based on a true story whose ending you don’t know – especially when children’s lives are at stake. Fanny’s Journey provides that level of suspense. Even in the occasional happy scenes, you know that almost certain death is right around the corner.

The story begins in a small boarding school for Jewish children in occupied France. Parents are bringing their sons and daughters there in hopes that it will be a haven away from the horrors that face the parents.

One of these children is 13-year-old Fanny (Léonie Souchaud), who has already taken considerable responsibility for her younger sister. Soon after they arrive, the adults running the school realize that their institution is no haven at all. With fake names and forged papers, they set out for Switzerland.

Before long, the adults become separated from the children, and Fanny takes over. Now she’s responsible for lives of other children.

Fanny and her charges fall into one dangerous situation after another – and some of these kids are too young to understand what’s really going on. They have to hide, be extremely quiet, and lie about their names, their religion, and their destination. If you know anything about the Holocaust, you know that many Jews took similar paths and didn’t come out alive.

As I mentioned above, Fannie’s Journey is based on a true story. I have no idea how similar the movie is to the actual events. Narrative cinema should always be viewed as fiction; I suspect that some of their adventures were created by the filmmakers. That doesn’t bother me.

Like most good thrillers, Fanny’s Journey has its moments of calm. There are times when the kids just act like kids – running in a field, playing soccer, splashing in water. But even these scenes heighten the suspense. You learn to love these kids – each of which has a fully-developed personality. You can’t bear the thought that any of them falling into the wrong hands.

Fanny’s Journey tells a powerful, and powerfully frightening tale of a struggle to survive against a government that wants you dead. It’s worth seeing.