Jon Avnet's workman-like made-for-TV movie about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943 merits watching if only because it's a bracing corrective to the deeply entrenched image of Europe's Jews plodding, sheep-like, to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps. The film dramatizes the efforts of a cadre of starving, haphazardly armed Jewish resistance fighters...read more
Jon Avnet's workman-like made-for-TV movie about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943 merits watching if only because it's a bracing corrective to the deeply entrenched image of Europe's Jews plodding, sheep-like, to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps. The film dramatizes the efforts of a cadre of starving, haphazardly armed Jewish resistance fighters who went head-to-head with the German army for an astonishing 42 days; by contrast, the Poland army folded in less than a month. Avnet's claim that "no one has told this story" isn't strictly accurate: The 1982 TV movie The Wall, adapted from John Hershey's 1967 novel, dealt with the same incidents, and the documentary CHRONICLE OF THE WARSAW GHETTO UPRISING ACCORDING TO MAREK EDELMAN (1993) combined archival footage and the razor-sharp recollections of Edelman himself, the highest ranking member of the resistance to survive the uprising. And Leon Uris's epic novel Mila 18 has been almost continuously in print since 1961; director Avnet considered adapting it, before opting to dramatize the stories of real individuals. The film opens in 1939, with the German invasion of Poland, and rapidly sketches out the events of the next two years: The herding of more than 350,000 Polish Jews (their numbers later swelled to nearly 500,000) into a rundown, 16-square-block Warsaw neighborhood, cut off from the rest of the city; starvation-level rationing; the depredations of illness, exacerbated by malnutrition and close quarters; and the casual brutality of Nazi soldiers and Polish civilians. Two schools of thought arise within the ghetto: Officials of the Judenrat (Jewish Council), notably Adam Czerniakow (Donald Sutherland), advise laying low and trying to ride out the war. Members of the ad hoc Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa (Jewish Fighting Organization) argue that the Germans plan to kill them all in the end, so they might as well resist. Twenty-three-year-old teacher-turned-guerrilla Mordechai Anielewicz (Hank Azaria) rallies like-minded men and women to the cause even before the mass deportations to Treblinka begin in 1942, and keeps the spirit of resistance alive to the bitter end. Among the fighters are Anielewicz's girlfriend, Mira (Radha Mitchell); fellow teacher Yitzhak Zuckerman (David Schwimmer, of TV's Friends); Tosia Altman (Leelee Sobieski), made fearless by the loss of her family; reluctant hero Simha "Kazik" Rotem (Stephen Moyer); one-time ghetto policeman Calel Wasser (Andy Nyman); and doctor Marek Edelman (John Ales). The real-life Edelman served as an advisor, and the film was shot in Bratislava, Slovakia.
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