Have you noticed the color schemes of the art for these recent films I have reviewed here? Brown or blue … the more mature films are dark. 2008 films deal with death, a lot of death.
Defiance is no exception. It is a dark film because it is about the Holocaust. It is filled with light, however, because the story is about people who were willing to sacrifice themselves, their comfort and even their lives if necessary, so that others might live.
Defiance is at least the fourth Holocause film this year (and the second this month: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The Reader, Valkyrie). Like Valkyrie, it is based on a true story.
Daniel Craig (Quantum of Solace), Liev Schreiber (The Painted Veil), and Jamie Bell (Billy Elliott) play the three Bielski brothers, Jewish partisans, who saved 1, 200 Jews (mostly from the Warsaw ghetto) by building a series of hidden villages in the forests of Belarus. A fourth, younger brother died early on. Non-Jews persecuted and pursued them; many non-Jews also helped them as they robbed from farmers to feed the refugees. They also took some revenge; they were not perfect heroes.
Edward Zwick directs; some of his previous accomplishments include films with deeply human themes: Glory and Blood Diamond.
Tuvia (Craig) rallies the refugees in the forest by focusing on human dignity and freedom:
“Every day of freedom is an act of faith; and if we die trying to live then at least we will die like human beings.”
“Our revenge is to live.”
“… to live free as long as we can.”
Defiance is not an easy film; the brothers and other able men and women did what they had to do to live; the brothers were ruthless in their protection of the Jewish people in their care. There is war violence and there are graphic battle scenes in the forest. At one point, a man challenges Tuvia’s leadership and Tuvia shoots him dead. Tuvia also forbids infants, and therefore sexual relations. A secret village with so many people can be discovered by a child’s cry. It is a harrowing when a young woman secretly gives birth not knowing what will happen.
Defiance is a war movie about humanity and hope. I liked the three lead actors, and the others, very much, artificial accents and all. Excellent cinematography, thanks to digital technology (if this was done on film it really is exceptional.)
Defiance is based on the book “Defiance: the Bielski Partisans” by Nechama Tec. While the film shows the “take no prisoners” approach of the Bielski brothers (they had no means of caring for or guarding prisoners), the controversies about their participation in at least one atrocity (so far unproved), are not mentioned.
Nevertheless, Defiance is a worthy contribution to the growing body of films about the Holocaust.