Bittersweet, subtle and deeply affecting without ever resorting to tear-jerking clichés, this carefully observed story of a young boy growing up in the shadow of World War II transcends the particulars of postwar European Jewish
experiences without in any way diminishing them. The Trotzig family, Aron and Bela (Hans Kremer, Teresa Harder) and their sons David (Martin Meingast) and Mendel (Thomas Jungling Sorensen), relocate in 1954 to Norway, where they have special refugee status because Aron contracted typhoid fever in
a concentration camp. Nine-year-old Mendel alone has no direct experience of German atrocities: In fact, he says wistfully, he has only good memories of Germany. Smart, observant and frustrated by his parents' wall of silence about the past, Mendel is trapped between wanting to fit in with his
Christian Norwegian peers (what child wouldn't instantly see the appeal of Santa Claus?) and needing to make sense of the hushed murmurs about the war he overhears. Traumatized, haunted and brittle as they are, his parents and their fellow refugees are in no shape to explain the Holocaust to a
child. And Mendel, with a child's unerring radar, invariably sees the things they want to spare him and asks the questions they don't have the emotional strength to answer, like "Can I have a number like that, too, Papa, when I grow up?" Writer-director Alexander Rosler, whose own family fled
Germany and settled in Norway in the '50s, paints an unsentimental portrait of a boy whose ordinary preadolescent traumas are grotesquely magnified by the cloud of poisonous silence and nightmares pieced together from books, ravaged photo albums and careless whispers under which he grows up.
Thomas Jungling Sorensen's remarkable portrayal of Mendel is the movie's center, but he's surrounded by exceptional performances, especially that of German stage actor Kremer as his father.
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- Released: 1997
- Rating: NR
- Review: Bittersweet, subtle and deeply affecting without ever resorting to tear-jerking clichés, this carefully observed story of a young boy growing up in the shadow of World War II transcends the particulars of postwar European Jewish experiences without in any… (more)