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LOOK TO THE SKY ('Jona che visse nella balena') is a little marvel of a
film, one that stays with the viewer long after the credits are
completed. Originally made in 1993 in Italy from a story by Hugh
Fleetwood and Roberto Faenza (who also directs), this honored film
re-visits the Holocaust but almost entirely through a child's eyes. The
complicity between the youthful innocence and the unspeakable reality
results in a story, rendered by a superb cast, that shares an entirely
different light on the effect of the Nazi 'Jewish Solution'.
Jonah at five years old (New Zealander Luke Petterson who was indeed age 5 when the movie was made) in 1942 lives in Amsterdam with his loving mother (Juliet Aubrey) and father (Jean-Hugues Anglade) in a family situation that is filled with love and optimism. Into this setting advance the Nazi occupiers, brand all of the Jews with yellow stars and gradually sequester them, making life crowded and difficult. Jonah narrates all of the action and his viewpoint is untainted by the reality of what is happening. His family is finally removed from their home and transported to a Dutch village where Jonah is told they will all be headed for Palestine soon. But instead of Palestine the intact family is transported to a concentration camp where Jonah and his mother are separated from his father. Jonah watches as his mother is in forced labor and makes friends with other children as best he can, even winning a place in the kitchen for food secretly delivered by the camp cook.
Jonah ages to 8 years (Jenner Del Vecchio) and though frail he is able to exist under the protection and feigned optimism of his mother who repeatedly advises Jonah that whenever the world seems bad, 'look to the sky and never ever hate'. Jonah's father is allowed to see his family for a stolen moment, a time when the father and mother attempt to hide their anguish in a moment of passion, a moment Jonah witnesses. Soon after, his father dies and eventually his mother dies at the moment when the Allied Forces are freeing the prisoners. Jonah is returned to Amsterdam where he is taken in by friends of the family and how he deals with his memories so firmly embedded in his mind and manages to go on living is the tender ending to the story.
The 5-year-old Luke Petterson is a wonder as Jonah, managing to create a credible character almost entirely by facial expressions (his lines are minimal). And Aubrey and Anglade are superb as is the young Jenner Del Vecchio and the rest of the supporting cast. The film is in English, Yiddish, and German but is without subtitles - a factor that actually enhances the story as Jonah does not understand the words of the Nazis, only their actions, and that places the audience in a compatible mindset with the child. The cinematography by János Kende captures the essence of beauty of Amsterdam as well as the horrors of the concentration camp and the award-winning score by Ennio Morricone is one of this master's finest. Few films dealing with the Holocaust are as moving as this. It is a must see for all viewers. Grady Harp
Luke Petterson is a great actor. His performance in this particular
movie is nothing short of amazing. Although he doesn't actually speak
any lines, his grunts and moans are timed to perfection. One scene of
note is when he is called a "filthy Jew" and gets his pot broken.
Petterson captures the mood and emotion of a young person experiencing
racial discrimination without fault and fully delivers. It is a crime
that petterson's movie career was cut short as it is without a doubt
that he would have played Ben afleck's role in pearl harbour and done a
much better job.
Thanks for the memories Luke. We will not forget you.
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