Varian Fry rescues more than 2,000 artists from Nazi persecution during World War II.

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
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Miriam Davenport
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Beamish
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Marcello
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Freier
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...
Colonel Joubert (as Remy Girard)
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Marius Franken
Gloria Carlin ...
Bella Chagall
Joel Miller ...
Vlasta Vrana ...
John Dunn-Hill ...
...
Harry Bingham
Dorothée Berryman ...
Mme Fanny
Howard Ryshpan ...
Konditorei Owner
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Storyline

After witnessing the treatment of Jews in Nazi territory made him physically sick, cultured American gentleman Varian Fry starts en emergency rescue commission to raise funds and lobby to help intellectuals and artists, especially Jews, escape from Vichy France -where the Pétain government avoid occupation only by utter collaboration- to the US, and for lack of a better volunteer personally sets out in search of them. First lady Eleanor Roosevelt personally overcomes the reticence of the State Department. In Marseille he finds the people he specifically looked for, such as Marc Chagall, already housed by Harry Bingham, a Jewish US consulate official so he starts screening less obvious candidates and examines with Miriam Davenport and a German social democrat they pass for US clergyman Beamish how some can be rescued legally, others via a clandestine route, while colonel Joubert's State Police is at their trace... Written by KGF Vissers

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

He changed the world forever. One person at a time. The true story of the American Schindler.

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Drama | War

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Release Date:

22 April 2001 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Au service de la liberté  »

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1.33 : 1
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Near the beginning of the movie, Varian is holding the "Foreign Affairs" book differently depending on the camera angle. See more »

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User Reviews

Oddly undramatic telling of extraordinary story
3 March 2004 | by (New York, New York) – See all my reviews

The movie plods along - victim of a poor screenplay that: i) distorts terribly the real facts, ii) fails to convey the excitement and danger of the undertaking, iii) fails to address the underlying moral question of seeking to save only those who've made their names in the arts, and iv) fails to sufficiently acquaint the audience with the merits of those who escape. The best thing about the movie (as true in so many movies) is Alan Arkin's performance in a small role - he's always superb.

I've no problem with the alteration of some facts in order to make a more compelling story. Thus, the fact that Chagall and his wife did not make the trip with Werfel and Heinrich Mann but went at a different time, or that there were actually up to a dozen people working with the committee (many of them European), or that Fry hardly ever personally escorted any of the people into Spain, I see as normal poetic license.

However, to say that the Miriam Davenport character is a composite - but then to steal the name of a real person who died during the production in order to present a terribly ugly and false portrait of her, is not forgivable. From what I've read (including her journal), the real Davenport was a very young, sweet idealistic person whose fiance was trapped in Yugoslavia, not the coarse, promiscuous and tough creature given this name in the movie - (and given a fictitious physical ailment).

And to make Fry a bizarre, hesitant, effete man who affects a dandy's guise

  • is absurd. Again, from what I've read, the real Fry was smart,


straightforward, strict, and decisive. (And he didn't die penniless, but was teaching classics at a New England prep school).

No one in the movie addresses the central moral question - why should the lives of those in the arts be more precious? The vast majority of those saved, had done their best work long before (Arendt is the obvious exception) - they weren't being saved for their future contributions so much as their past. Would it not be at least arguable that those saved should be those who were most involved in charitable works, had the greatest "heart"? Or that those saved should be those whose past indicated the most practicable help to the U.S. should it get into the war? Or that those saved should be those who had the closest family relation to American citizens? The movie's failure to address these questions - and blithe assumption that those in the arts are simply superior to the rest of us, so their very lives are more worthy of preservation - is deeply annoying.

Moreover, the movie fails to convey any sense of the value of the particular people saved. We need to know why these particular people are so important to Fry and others. Why could they not give the viewer a sense of the writing of Heinrich Mann, Feuchtwanger or Werfel? Why could they not show a single canvas of the work of Duchamps, Ernst or Chagall? Why could they not show some of the sculpture of Lipschutz? The political musings of Arendt? We need to know why these people are so critical.

This movie is dull. Those who like it on this board seem really to be responding to the idea of a movie about Fry's work - or to be (quite justly) praising what he and others in the committee did. Since the central drama of the personalities involved is so falsely presented, it's far far better to simply read about them.


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