The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler (2009 TV Movie)
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I won't give the plot away, but considering it's a WW2 movie about sneaking Jewish children out of a ghetto, you can probably guess where it's going.
Production values were excellent. It felt more like a feature than a TV movie. Give it a try.
Irena wants to at least save the children, who can be taught to pretend they are Christian or even convert. But many families do not want to take a chance sheltering Jewish children (so convents and orphanages must be found), and the Jewish parents are reluctant to give up their children. Irena promises to keep a list of who she rescues and where they are so they can be returned after the war; the hiding place looks like it will work, but who knows?
Not everyone is willing to help Irena in her quest--even some of her employees don't see the point and don't want to get involved--but she finds several very caring people who can help. Some know ways the children can secretly escape. Meanwhile, the Germans are taking over Irena's department, and to get into the ghetto she must pose as a nurse and give typhus shots. A lot of good the shots will do, since the people who put Jews in the ghetto care little about them, and conditions allow disease to spread. And pretty soon, disease will be the least of the Jews' worries. But at least Irena believes she can save some of the children.
Of course, anyone who gets caught helping Jews faces dire consequences. There are narrow escapes, but even some Germans seem sympathetic.
Anna Paquin does a very good job. Two specific moments stand out in my mind. One is a scene where Irena has to pretend she doesn't care as a Jewish parent pleads for help, when we know she cares a lot. Another is the most disturbing scene in the movie, where Irena has finally been caught breaking the law.
Elea Hofland stands out as Anna, one of the more likable Jewish children, the one that wants to be a ballerina. I have to believe this was not a real child because what are the chances the character would have the same name as the star?
The actors playing the Jewish parents do a good job. So many are scared of what might happen to their children, and they portray this well.
There is also a red-haired Jewish boy who stands out in my mind but I don't remember his name. I'm going to say Jasio.
I wanted to say this was a film the whole family could watch, except maybe younger children. Hallmark Hall of Fame presentations tend to be family-friendly, even when tackling adult issues. But I'm not sure some of the violence in this movie would pass the test. It's certainly milder than "Schindler's List", and most of the violence is only implied. But there is a scene with an apparently dead body, and several scenes where it's clear if not obvious we are seeing people shot.
This is an important film because it tells some of what the Jews had to go through, and it makes clear how terribly they were treated just at the beginning, before they went to concentration camps. The gory details are avoided. And there are a few triumphant moments, even when we think things can't get any better for certain characters.
It's not a typical Hallmark film, but it does make important points.
The film is quite a change for Anna Paquin, who shows she can act unlike her 1993 totally undeserved supporting Oscar win for "The Piano."
This excellent film shall serve as an inspiration to us all. Unfortunately, we could not discover what happened to many of the children after the war. Unfortunately, their parents must have perished.
This is a film of great virtue, moral courage, the embodiment of a total triumph of the human spirit under such adversity.
Marcia Gay Harden, a terrific actress, has the role of the mother. Despite the fact that her part is generally understated, Harden displays that rare virtue of a parent caught up in what is right in such an era of horror.
As one of the reviewers already said - this is not a typical Hallmarks movie, but certainly the great one. And I really recommend it for watching, if not more to the honor of braves such Irena Senler was.
This film told a tale which was new to me and I was very pleased to have turned the TV on late that night ..
This lacks the sustained intensity of "Schindler's List." For probably three-quarters of the movie, although the conditions of the Ghetto are portrayed as dreadful, the threat from the Germans seems muted and distant, albeit it ever present. Having said that, the intensity of the movie increases dramatically after Irena is arrested by the Gestapo, and the scenes in which she's tortured are quite unnervingly realistic. A nice touch at the movie's end was a few brief words from the real Irena Spendler, who died in 2008.
For those interested in this period of history, this is a worthwhile movie - not the best of the Holocaust-themed movies, but certainly a good one.
However, that wasn't the biggest problem. Mediocre and unconvincing acting aside, everyone not only spoke broken English (plus they had public signs in English!!!) but they also spoke the way Americans do in Hollywood productions - I love you, son - I love, daddy. Excuse me but no one actually speaks with each other like this in real life in Poland, Latvia or anywhere else really for that matter. And what was it all about with this sudden outburst of cautious randiness in the closet? Yes, of course, we need a bit of fully clothed and well-tempered romance to make the Hollywood mission complete.
In many ways, this film tried to be Schindler's List. They even put some real life footage of Irena Sendler at the end of the film, just like they did it in Spielberg's film. But both these films, while touching upon very serious and important matters, flop entirely in terms of authenticity and believability. In other words, cheap Hollywoodisation of European history.
The film is told in linear style and traces her efforts right the way through the life of the ghetto. It is reasonably well made with some good period detail but it is also nakedly sentimental almost from the start. That is forgivable bearing in mind the subject matter.
It does balance things up as it develops and we get some nasty Nazi's but this is not an action packed war movie it is a character driven story. It is really about the people who cared and risked their lives to save others. The acting is all adequate but some of the children really ought to think of an alternative career option (yes I know they are young but so was Shirley Temple) and everyone speaks in English as this was made for US TV. It was filmed in Riga too so some very nice settings and in the end it is a brilliant way to remember another brave and kind woman who put others before herself.