Finally watched The Boy in the Striped Pajamas after months of wanting. This movie was being aired at an independent theater, but I missed it then. AT&T U-Verse recording system came to my rescue.
You must be thinking: Oh, another movie dealing with WWII and Nazi Germany. Another movie that highlights the sufferings meted out against Jews. Another movie showing Hitler. At the risk of sounding cliched, the movie is a “different” take on WW-II. It tells the story of a Nazi family from the eyes of an eight year old whose father is stationed near one of the concentration camps. The boy, Bruno, thinks men in striped pajamas are farmers. He is upset over the way an old Jew who serves them food is treated by his father. He’s much surprised to learn that the vegetable tending man was actually a doctor by profession.
There’s so much of meaning to everything that happens in the movie: A kid’s conscience is so clear compared to that of an adult. How as parents, humans try to protect their kids from the harshness that surrounds us. Yet it is this unequal and filtered information that might sometimes harm the kids. A mother’s instinct is so strong. She realizes the danger that her children face. It’s hardly suitable for them to live only a couple of yards away from a concentration camp. And at the same time, the father thinks it is his duty to stand by his countrymen. The movie doesn’t delve much into the actual propaganda and atrocities surrounding the era. All of us very well know what happened. The father, who is referred to as a “brave soldier” by his son, learns a very important lesson in his life the hard way. The mom suffers.
So the crux of the movie is this: Bruno’s Jew friend who stays in a concentration camp comes to work at his place. He is busy cleaning silverware. Bruno offers him some food which the Jewish boy gladly accepts. One of the Nazi officers stationed in the house catches the two boys talking. He reprimands the Jew and asks Bruno if he knows the Jew. Bruno denies knowing the Jew. The Nazi officer takes the Jew boy away and punishes him. The Jew boy appears several scenes later with a purple eye. I thought he would have been dead. Anyway. Bruno is guilt ridden over the fact that he let his friend down. He wants to make up to him. See, it’s his clear conscience that brings his downfall. If Bruno were a 35 year old, he would have still been alive. The Jew boy tells Bruno that his father has been missing since the past couple of days. Bruno offers to help him find his dad. Both devise a plan to smuggle in Bruno into the concentration camp. Now you’ll wonder, why would Bruno agree to enter the forbidden area? This is where “unequal and filtered information” is to be blamed. A couple of days ago, Bruno sees a propaganda movie spearheaded by his dad that shows Jews living very comfortable lives beyond the bloodied fences. The documentary makes him believe the Jews have a cafe, play area and everyone is one, big happy family. When the time comes for him to join his Jew friend, he gladly agrees. In the mean time, Bruno’s mother learns what goes on in the concentration camp just a couple of yards away from her house: the smoke emanating out is that of Jews being burned alive. Visibly distressed, she convinces her husband that they need to move their kids somewhere else. Before she can do this, her son manages to escape and join his Jew friend on the other side of the fence. A search follows. However it’s too late and the boys have been gassed. The new gas chambers promise to be more efficient and were masterminded by Bruno’s father. Cruel way of learning an important lesson, huh?
The movie is based on a book with the same title, written by John Boyne. I haven’t read the book. My biggest regret is the authenticity lost because of the main language. I wish the movie were in German with English subtitles. The direction and acting were all up to the mark. I did wonder a couple of times how a pair of eight year olds managed to escape the eyes of Nazis while they sat facing each other across the fence, exchanging thoughts and chocolates.
I remember visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC last December. It was a humbling experience. I got to walk through real coaches that were used to transport Jews to concentration camps. I saw the actual bunk “beds” in which they slept. There were striped uniforms, mountains of real shoes, and other personal items of the deceased on display. This June, there was a shooting outside the Museum. Neo-Nazis still live on this Earth. Each one of us is a Nazi as long as we, as common people, don’t realize that everyone has a right to live.
A collection for 18 short movies, directed by 21 world class directors. Each movie is about 5-8 movies long. Making short movies is an art- having the ability to pack a punch in only a couple of minutes. So, Dev , if you are reading this post, please do take a note.
About nine short movies are par brilliance. About 5 are very good. About three to four are pure hogwash. Since the average duration is about 5-6 minutes, sitting through some BS is tolerable. I did take a break for a couple of minutes every now and then because the stories are quite intense and it’s too much to take at one go. The Wikipedia page of the movie has a couple of lines on each short movie. Some reviews around the internet say that it’s worth watching this collection because it gives you an opportunity to compare the direction style of one director versus another. Doing this is a very difficult task for me. Compartmentalizing the direction of great directors like The Coen Brothers, Alexander Payne, Alfonso Cuoron, Gus Van Sant etc. is not easy. Each story is so different. It’s not disappointing to not see familiar sights like the Eiffel Tower, various Parisian museums etc. in every segment. Instead, each piece is set in a different part of Paris and elucidates a different angle of love, suffering, joy and longing.
Some of my favorites:
“Tueleries” by The Coen Brothers- Story of an American tourist in a subway station in Paris and how staring at a young couple for a couple of seconds lands him in trouble. If you have five minutes, you can watch the movie for free on Youtube:
Loin du 16e by Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas- A young woman sings a soulful lullaby to her baby early in the morning at the daycare. She goes to her employer’s house. The employer’s baby is crying and she sings the same lullaby again, sans feelings and emotions. This video has no subtitles. Even then, it should be easy to understand because the emotions are well executed through a simple lullaby. The movie hardly has any dialogues.
Place de Victoires- I’m a big fan of Juliette Binoche and Willem Dafoe. I didn’t care much for Nobuhiro Sawa’s director. Juliette Binoche stars as a young mother grieving the loss of her young son. Her acting makes this movie worth a watch.
Tour Eiffel- Brilliant acting by mime artists. And the boy with the oversized backpack is really cute. One of the few segments that is very light hearted and makes you smile.
Faubourg Saint-Deni- Natalie Portman’s contribution to this wonderful series. She stars as a young actor who falls in love with a blind guy. The boy talks about their love and how it turns sour eventually.
14e arrondissement- Best ending a series can ever have. Directed by Alexander Payne, an American tourist narrates her tale about her love for Paris and her recent visit to the City of Love. The American-French accent is so lovable. If you’re short on time, just watch this one segment because it’s totally worth it.
Maria Elena used to say that only unfulfilled love can be romantic
- Juan Antonio
Woody Allen almost makes me ashamed of wanting normalcy and stability in my life. He also seems to propound that sex equals love. As in, unless two people are having lots of sex, they can’t be in love. Maybe I’m getting it all wrong. I enjoyed the madness and the Spanish scenery. I enjoyed feeling inspired to love, to paint, to create music and to live like an artist. I wish I’d watched this movie sooner. Perhaps I would have done something about what I didn’t intentionally want to happen.
Oh, Penelope Cruz looked very pretty. But I’m not sure if she deserved the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. I think Scarlett Johansson did put up an equally impressive performance. I’ve seen Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall together in The Prestige and it was a pleasure seeing them again in this romantic comedy. Javier Bardem looks delicious.