Throughout history many have preferred to forget the atrocities of the Holocaust during World War II. However Hollywood has helped to keep this important event alive thanks to films like "Life is Beautiful", "Schindler's List" and "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas", but sometimes there are stories that go unrecognized or forgotten. Director Robert M. Young decided to take the lesser known story of Holocaust survivor Salamo Arouch and bring it to the masses.
Salamo and his family (heritage of Jewish Greeks) are first seen living their lives happily just before the Nazis invade their village and ship the Jewish citizens off to concentration camps, specifically the dreaded Auschwitz. The film follows the Arouch family's struggle to struggle, specifically showing the male members of the family and also the perspectives of Allegra, Salamo's fiancée, and her sister on the women's side of Auschwitz.
In the pivotal role of Salamo is an underrated performance by A-list star Willem Dafoe. Portraying a strong-willed survivor, but also a man who loses nearly every person he loves, the emotion of Dafoe's performance is raw and heartbreaking. Going from a carefree man with the world in the palm of his hand to a prisoner fighting (literally) to survive the harsh environment of Auschwitz. Dafoe's costar chemistry is in top form from a touchingly sweet affection for Wendy Gazelle as Allegra, a believable son to Robert Loggia who plays his father and a tenuous friendship with Edward James Olmos as Gypsy, the officer who aids Salamo by giving him a chance to use his boxing talents as well as a better (using the term loosely) job within the camp due to Salamo's consistent winning streak. Dafoe is an adept fighter, with a naturally thin frame and limber muscle, the actor demonstrates adept skill in the boxing arena. However as things grow from bad to worse for Salamo, Dafoe portrays the right amount of emotion that expresses the character's inner pain such as the horrible losses of his brother (shot for refusing to work in the crematorium) and father (executed in the gas chamber due to his age and no longer useful for labor to the officers of the camp), and fear at never seeing his beloved Allegra again. By the film's close we are as exhausted as Salamo and hope for a happy ending after so much horror.
The film's narrative is quite dark and depressing due to the subject of the Holocaust and its atrocious violence. Prisoners were forced to march for hours on end, beaten if they tried to seek additional food or refusal to cooperate, many were shot and gassed if their usefulness had ended and there is the violence of the boxing ring when we watch our protagonist fight. It gets bloody and exhausting as we hope that things can't get worse for the characters, but knowing the history of what occurred during the Holocaust we know it is far from over until the Allied Powers finally liberated the camp in 1944.
See this film as soon as you can, but keep some tissues on standby cause this is gonna make you cry.
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