Posts Tagged ‘Poland’

An intriguing tale of World War II atrocities unspools in Ronald Balson’s uneven ‘Once We Were Brothers’

August 21, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 21, 2015

Once We Were Brothers, the 2013 novel by Chicago lawyer Ronald Balson, regularly shifts its narrative between the present-day Windy City and World War II Poland. But the heart of this book is clearly in the events of the 1940s, which Holocaust survivor Ben Solomon recreates over a period of several weeks as he tries to provide his attorney with evidence that Chicago’s most prominent philanthropist was in fact his stepbrother, who went on to become a Nazi war criminal.

Solomon’s counsel, corporate lawyer Catherine Lockhart, initially believes her client to be a seriously disturbed crank. But she quickly becomes enraptured by Solomon’s story, and who could blame her? It’s a story of strong-willed men and women whose lives become irreversibly warped as the continent around them succumbs to a tyrant and his anti-semitic obsession. By the time Solomon brings his account to its conclusion, most of the characters — not to mention millions of Jews and their countless communities — have been exterminated by a vicious genocide.

By contrast, all the drama in Once We Were Brothers’ present-day narrative seems entirely trivial. Will Lockhart’s career — already derailed by a personal meltdown triggered by her duplicitous former husband — be permanently impaired as Solomon increasingly distracts her from her obligations to her corporate clients? Will Lockhart and Liam Taggart, the handsome, savvy private investigator who has loved her since they were children, recognize their mutual passion for one another? These are all low-stakes matters in the grand scheme of things.

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Pawlikowski’s ‘Ida’ was honored by the 2015 Academy Awards

February 25, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 25, 2015

The 87th Academy Award ceremony, which took place Sunday night, turned out to be rather political. Patricia Arquette, who won best supporting actress for her role as the mother in Boyhood, used her acceptance speech to call for gender wage equality.

When “Glory,” the theme from the wonderful civil rights film Selma, was chosen for best song, musician John Legend said, “We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say that Selma is now because the struggle for justice is right now.”

Legend had more to say in his acceptance speech, adding: “We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850.” (Legend co-wrote “Glory” with Lonnie Lynn. That musician and actor, who performs under the name Common, appears in Selma as the skullcap- and denim-wearing Rev. John Bevel.)

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A young woman hunts for the truth in the understated, powerful ‘Ida’

June 14, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 13, 2014

Ida, the 2013 film which director Pawel Pawlikowski wrote with Rebecca Lenkiewicz, is the powerful story of a young woman who must grapple with her family’s shadowed past and the fallout of the previous generation’s war.

The movie, which is set in Poland in the mid-1960s, revolves around Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), who is poised to become a nun at the rural convent where she has apparently been raised since infancy. Days before Anna is scheduled to take her vows, her mother superior tells her that the convent had repeatedly written to her aunt, asking her to pick up the girl; the aunt, her only living family member, declined to do so. The nun vaguely but firmly instructs the Anna to travel to her relative’s city apartment. She tells the young woman to stay there as she needs.

The aunt, Wanda (Agata Kulesza), is a stern, trim figure who initially has little use for any echoes of her past. But she soon reverses course, welcoming Anna into her home and introducing the girl to some of their shared history. Wanda, a lifelong city dweller whose sister was Anna’s mother, agrees to drive the young woman to the small town where her parents were farmers before the Nazi invasion.

Anna’s parents — who, unbeknownst to her, were Jews — are dead, but no one knows where they are buried. The two women decide to find the grave, visiting the people who took over the property that once belonged to Anna’s family and tracking down the ailing elderly man who had once protected them from the crematoria of the Holocaust.

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A flashy but deeply flawed hero saves lives with ‘Schindler’s List’

August 28, 2012

At the start of World War II, a flashy businessman named Oskar Schindler detected the scent of something precious: opportunity.

In the fall of 1939, Schindler, a German living in occupied Krakow, Poland, was wining and dining Nazi officials and looking for a way to make money. After learning of a recently bankrupted factory, he tracked down its former accountant and quizzed him on the business’ fundaments. The suspicious accountant, Itzhak Stern, throws in with Schindler’s decidedly unorthodox business plan. Thus was born an unlikely, and nearly miraculous, partnership that wound up saving some 1,100 Jews from the Nazi death machine.

The story of that alliance is at the heart of Schindler’s List, American director Steven Spielberg’s 1993 outing. (Actually, it was his second picture that year, released after Jurassic Park.) Spielberg is perhaps the most successful director of all time. His credits include influential blockbusters such as JawsClose Encounters of the Third KindE.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and the Indiana Jones movies; other adventure movies such as A.I. Artificial IntelligenceSaving Private RyanMinority Report, Catch Me If You CanWar of the Worlds and The Adventures of Tintin; and more serious dramas such as The Color PurpleEmpire of the SunAmistad and Munich.

Having said all that, and without having viewed many of Spielberg’s acclaimed pictures, I’m prepared to argue that Schindler’s List is one of Spielberg’s most powerful features. Spielberg presents this story of the Holocaust in straightforward fashion, showing atrocious deeds with minimal moralizing or mawkishness. The film also brings forth some fascinating characters — Schindler himself, who has more substance than his outer flash would suggest, as well as the mostly stoic Stern and Schindler’s other crucial business partner, a vicious Nazi officer named Amon Goeth. Read the rest of this entry »

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