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Central Europe, WWII. The village fool of a small Jewish community warns the townsfolk that the Nazis are coming, and advises them to build a fake deportation train to cross the Russian border and get to Palestine. Some Jews are dressed up with German uniforms, and soon they start getting strange ideas about how it feels to be a Nazi; others are infected with the fast-spreading germ of communism. Meanwhile, the Russian border gets closer and closer... Written by
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It's amazing how many people seem to be complaining about the unrealism of this film. Given that anyone with two brain cells to rub together can see that the film is not trying to be realistic from scene 1 onwards, the question is not whether the film tried to be realistic and failed, but whether a film about the Holocaust must try to be realistic to be any good.
The trouble is that unless as part of the performance the entire audience is deported in cattle-trucks, slowly starved, and then gassed, it is rather difficult to see how any film can be realistic about the Holocaust. So, if there are to be movies about the Holocaust at all, or if they are to do much beyond telling us that the Holocaust was ghastly (we knew that, didn't we?)
they have to give up on trying to be realistic, and try to look at the Holocaust in an indirect way. This is where I think "Train de Vie" succeeds, for example by the deliberate parallels between the society inside the train, and the society that helped caused the Holocaust. I could list them at length, but if you've seen the movie and didn't notice them, you won't be convinced by anything I say, and if you haven't seen the movie, I'd rather leave you the pleasure of discovering them for yourself.
I never actually thought of the film's relation to "Life is Beautiful" until reading the IMDB comments, after I'd seen both films. Well it's very hard to compare the two films, but I don't think "Train de Vie" needs to be ashamed of the comparison. True, Roberto Benigni does not star in it, and that is a heavy handicap for any film. On the other hand I think I like the exuberant un-reality of "Train de Vie" better. After all the portrayal of the Holocaust in "Life is Beautiful" is just as unrealistic as that of "Train de Vie"; the only difference is that "Train de Vie" revels from the first scene
to the last in its unreality. If we must be unreal, let us at least enjoy it.
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