1 July 2012 | marcin_kukuczka
In Search of Human Perception...
"I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, "Mother, what was war?" (Eve Merriam).
When seeing this wonderful post-war production, one could almost swear that it is a product of Italian Neorealism. Opening at the UNRRA camp with the sad image of war orphans, it powerfully addresses viewers' hearts. Are there any other creatures on earth more harmed by the terrifying reality of war than innocent children? Those who want to live at the dawns of their lives? Those whose simplicity of happiness lies in smiling faces? Those who 'have the right to better things' in this corrupted world? Yes, the story places us on solid ground of this tragic reality not making anything look sweeter, nicer but simply the very dramatic way it is. We are among those who did nothing wrong to anybody and, yet, are suffering so intensely as 'nameless human beings.' The search...we soon realize that it is not merely a search of a stolen thing which affects employment but a search of a human being and a human perception - a human whose dignity has been terribly robbed.
Many of the extras, scenes shot in actual ruins of post war Wuerzburg, Nuremberg, Ingolstadt along with the languages used by the children, including Czech and Polish, supply the movie with an almost documented material, something Bosley Crowther (New York Times, March 1948) accurately referred to as "an illusion of absolute naturalness." From the moment we pay attention to one of the kids, a 10-year old Czech boy Karel Malik who does not know nor remember anything after he was separated from his family, from his mother (we know him from a touching flashback), we follow his story and empathize with him. Though there is a fence in his mind, his pursuit of freedom and happiness does not close him within the walls of the camp. Together with another boy, he escapes the ambulance and, ironically, amids the ruins of destruction, he meets a true friend who shows him that people may talk instead of yell, people can build instead of destroy, people can give instead of take. Yet, his longing written deep in his heart, a longing for a mother reveals the story's humane power. For its authentic depiction, great credit is given to director Fred Zinnemann, scriptwriter Richard Schweizer and his collaborator, a Swiss producer Lazar Wechsler.
Much could be said about various performances but the one that truly deserves a very special note is Ivan Jandl's. A talented boy found by Mr Zinnemann in a school group in Prague evokes extraordinary feelings in viewers to this very day. His achievement certainly belongs to the very best child performances ever seen on the screen. Let me again refer to Bosley Crowther who notes that young Ivan "has such tragic expression in his slight frame, such poetry in his eyes and face and such melting appeal in his thin voice that he is the ultimate embodiment of the sorrow-inflicted child." Unforgettable from the moment at the UNRRA when his only answer is "Ich Weiss Nicht (I don't know)" to the vibrant scenes with Steve played brilliantly by Montgomery Clift (Ivan did not know English but learned his lines phonetically). He shows us a great ability to display feelings of trust yet, a state of mind still affected by trauma. Consider his moment with one American boy Tommy. Winning a very special Oscar, the Juvenile Award, as a Czechoslovakian inhabitant, Ivan Jandl was forbidden to travel to the USA in order to receive the awards. Despite his great performance, the drama of his role somehow influenced his real life from that moment on. Pity Ivan Jandl had not lived in the USA...
Americans, indeed, had more breathing space and, naturally, greater possibilities for a career. Along with RED RIVER (1948), THE SEARCH may be considered a movie that made Montgomery Clift a star. He handles his role nicely as the one who 'tames' a nameless boy first but the one who soon becomes a friend of the boy whom he calls 'Jim'. Note that he first fulfills Karel/Jim's basic need of food (seemingly simple but so meaningful in the depiction of reality) and then, he renews hope in 'Jim,' gives him some possibilities for 'normality' and teaches 'Jim' English. Indeed, the scenes of 'natural English lessons' belong to the best ones that these two young talented actors have. The unforgettable moment of the two, however, is the moment at the birches and their conversation about the mother who is alive. After this film, Clift's talent was recognized and he made some of the greatest movies in his short but fruitful career in Hollywood.
Among the cast, a person whose career influenced more music than film is Jarmila Novotna, an opera singer who gave her performances at MET as well as at the Vienna State Opera and Opera Berlin. She subtly plays Ms Malik, Karel's mother. She is one of the most humane characters that Hollywood ever depicted, one of the most sympathetic characters who fills her search, her longing, her waiting with helping others. By helping others, she helps herself not out of some religious duty but out of heart's call. From the supporting cast, Aline MacMahon deserves attention as Ms Murray, a compassionate UNRRA worker.
Much suffering had to be endured and much burden within the patience of the search so that both grown ups and children could be amazed by the wonder of "Schalom" (Peace). This masterpiece is a must for everyone who is able to accept some thought provoking aspects. Are you ready to empathize with these characters? Are you ready to notice the very special treasure you are looking for? Are you ready to be engrossed by the wondrous idea hidden in the film's morale? Without its core search of human perception within yourself, the movie is a mere product of its time - the past. Yet, there is something more to be conveyed. 10/10