A young Jewish boy joins Hitler’s Youth Army in an attempt to conceal his identity.
This movie destroyed me emotionally. There are films where I’ve cried three or four times, but in this film there were probably seven or eight different scenes where I found myself in tears. Most of the time my tears weren’t due to the depiction of violence or inhuman treatment of others, but because of the unexpected shining moments of tenderness the find their way out from under the ruin and rubble.
“Are you really a German?”
This film does depict the horrors of World War II from the perspective of a young boy (much like Elem Klimov’s harrowing masterpiece “Come and See”) named Solomon (Marco Hoschneider, “The Island of Dr. Moreau”). The boy is Jewish and as such has been circumcised since birth. When Hitler’s army comes to Poland, Solomon’s father (Klaus Abramowsky) sends Solomon and his siblings to an orphanage. Eventually, after a series of unfortunate events, Solomon ends up being captured by Germans, but due to his ability to speak German fluently he is able to convince the Germans he is one of them, and send him on to join Hitler’s youth army where he takes on the name of Josef. Danger awaits him at every turn, for if his true identity is found out, he will immediately be shot.
For the most part, I really liked this movie, but I don’t think it’s a fantastic film by any means. I admitted at the top of this review that I cried, quite a bit, during my viewing, but that’s because some of the things that happened in this movie were a touch sensational. I felt as if my emotions were constantly, coyly being manipulated, and every time this film had a chance to give an emotional gut punch it took it. This film just constantly swings your emotions from depressed to elated, and after a while it just gets exhausting. So while this film might have really hit me on an emotional level, I also think there are plenty of parts that were too cheesy for me to give this film anything above a 4/5 star rating. I know this tagline claims that its based on a true story, but so did “The Conjuring”; just because there’s some elements of truth to what happened in this story doesn’t mean I can believe all of it happened.
(SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW)
While I complain about the sensational elements of this film that is part of what makes it as emotional as it is. There are dozens of scenes that are filled with shocking ironies, and that’s what makes this film memorable. My favorite scenes were when Josef/Solomon is almost found out, but then instead of getting turned into the Germans he is shown compassion (like when he meets the closeted German soldier). Another one of my favorite parts is when Josef starts dating a girl named Leni (Julie Delpy, “Before Sunrise”). Though they are in love, he is afraid to have sex with her because she claims to hate Jews, and if he were to remove his pants she would see he was circumcised. Not long after Leni gets angry at Solomon/Josef for not having sex with her, Leni’s mother comes to Solomon/Josef and says that Leni is pregnant. The amount of irony that comes in that scene is amazing; while Josef/Solomon tries to come to terms with the fact that his girlfriend is cheating on him, he also has to take into account that if he pretends he is the one who got her pregnant, that will confirm to everyone else that he is 100% German. What makes it even more ironic is that Leni’s mother then guesses that Solomon is, in fact, a Jew, but she says that she’ll keep his secret because she knows him. There are plenty of moments where people talk directly to Solomon about how to identify Jews, not realizing that they are in fact talking to one of the people they claim to hate.
Overall I thought the story moved quickly and it told a war story in a way I haven’t seen very often. I do think that Marco Hofschneider’s performance was a bit spotty; there were times when he was quite good, and other times when he was so melodramatic it was almost laughable. Still, there were far more good parts than bad.
While I would never go so far as to call this film a masterpiece, it is one that hit me far harder than I ever expected it to. I think most people whom have an interest in World War II would really enjoy this film. For me, this falls far short of Elem Klimov’s “Come and See” in terms of a kid-gets-wrapped-up-in-war movie, but it’s still a really well told story.
Full Disclosure: After reading more about the real story behind this film, I dropped my rating down a half a star. This film is pretty good, but it’s certainly not accurate.
Review Written By: