Monday, October 24, 2011

Little Boy Lost circa 1948

This week, we begin a brief look at children during the Second World War with two outstanding flims.  Our first film is The Search, a quasi-documentary about a little refugee boy after the war.  Ivan Jandl gives a wonderful performance as Karel/James, a child whose only memories of life have been been his years at Austhwitz.  His story is told parallel to that of his mother, Hanna Malik (Jarmila Novotna), who, since her release from a camp, has been wandering throughout Europe trying to find her only surviving relative - her little son.

This is an immensely powerful tale.  The pain of mother and child is told without melodrama; we learn very little of what they actually suffered, but their suffering is apparent, most prominently displayed by the haze which now protects Karel from the world.  In the midst of this, "Steve" Stevenson (Montgomery Clift, in his first starring role) appears.  This scarecrow of a child intrigues Steve, and he brings the boy home with him.  He feeds him, bathes him, clothes him, and begins to teach him. And begins to love him.  Clift's performance, like that of all our actors, is both subtle and controlled.  We read his emotions in his eyes.  Again, there is no over-dramatics in his performance - just pure, human emotion.
Finally, we tip our respective hats to the ever wonderful Aline MacMahon as Mrs. Murray, the head of the UNRRA camp in which both Karel and Hanna find themselves.  She is all calmness and restraint as she listens to horror stories told with frightening matter-of-factness by children who should be worried about their homework, not whether they can survive another day.  Watch her as she listens to her translator relate the story of a young girl who learned of her mother's death when she was forced to sort the clothing of victims of the Nazi death chambers.  It will bring tears to your eyes. This trailer will give you just a brief impression of the impact of this impressive film:

A couple of interesting pieces of trivia: Jarmila Novotna was an opera singer, as well as an actess, and Ivan Jandl spoke no English - he learned his lines phonetically.  

Next week, we visit with an earlier film about children in the War.  Please join us.

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