21 April 2009 | vchimpanzee
Disturbing but worthwhile story
In this fact-based story set in 1941 Poland, Irena Sendler is in charge of social services for Warsaw, which is unusual in itself. Rarely were women in charge of anything important in those days. Nearly half a million Jews from Poland and elsewhere have been moved to the Warsaw ghetto, and they are about to be moved again--to places with names like Treblinka and Auschwitz. Irena's job involves helping these people in whatever ways she can.
Irena wants to at least save the children, who can be taught to pretend they are Christian or even convert. But many families do not want to take a chance sheltering Jewish children (so convents and orphanages must be found), and the Jewish parents are reluctant to give up their children. Irena promises to keep a list of who she rescues and where they are so they can be returned after the war; the hiding place looks like it will work, but who knows?
Not everyone is willing to help Irena in her quest--even some of her employees don't see the point and don't want to get involved--but she finds several very caring people who can help. Some know ways the children can secretly escape. Meanwhile, the Germans are taking over Irena's department, and to get into the ghetto she must pose as a nurse and give typhus shots. A lot of good the shots will do, since the people who put Jews in the ghetto care little about them, and conditions allow disease to spread. And pretty soon, disease will be the least of the Jews' worries. But at least Irena believes she can save some of the children.
Of course, anyone who gets caught helping Jews faces dire consequences. There are narrow escapes, but even some Germans seem sympathetic.
Anna Paquin does a very good job. Two specific moments stand out in my mind. One is a scene where Irena has to pretend she doesn't care as a Jewish parent pleads for help, when we know she cares a lot. Another is the most disturbing scene in the movie, where Irena has finally been caught breaking the law.
Elea Hofland stands out as Anna, one of the more likable Jewish children, the one that wants to be a ballerina. I have to believe this was not a real child because what are the chances the character would have the same name as the star?
The actors playing the Jewish parents do a good job. So many are scared of what might happen to their children, and they portray this well.
There is also a red-haired Jewish boy who stands out in my mind but I don't remember his name. I'm going to say Jasio.
I wanted to say this was a film the whole family could watch, except maybe younger children. Hallmark Hall of Fame presentations tend to be family-friendly, even when tackling adult issues. But I'm not sure some of the violence in this movie would pass the test. It's certainly milder than "Schindler's List", and most of the violence is only implied. But there is a scene with an apparently dead body, and several scenes where it's clear if not obvious we are seeing people shot.
This is an important film because it tells some of what the Jews had to go through, and it makes clear how terribly they were treated just at the beginning, before they went to concentration camps. The gory details are avoided. And there are a few triumphant moments, even when we think things can't get any better for certain characters.
It's not a typical Hallmark film, but it does make important points.