Jewish brothers in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe escape into the Belarussian forests, where they join Russian resistance fighters and endeavor to build a village in order to protect themselves and about 1,000 Jewish non-combatants.
On the run and hiding in the deep forests of the then German-occupied Poland and Belorussia (World War II), the four Bielski brothers find the impossible task of foraging for food and weapons for their survival. They live, not only with the fear of discovery, contending with neighboring Soviet partisans and knowing whom to trust but also take the responsibility of looking after a large mass of fleeing Polish Jews from the German war machine. Women, men, children, the elderly and the young alike are all hiding in makeshift homes in the dark, cold and unforgiving forests in the darkest times of German-occupied Eastern Europe. Written by
Plot: A trio of brothers in Nazi-occupied Belorussia hide in the woods to try and save their fellow Jews whilst fighting the Nazis.
Since the Second World War there has always been a certain amount of controversy amongst Jews over the near-total lack of resistance by the Jews to the Holocaust. Many great writers, amongst whom I particularly recommend Vassily Grossman, have tried to work out why the Jews (mostly) didn't fight back. Now comes DEFIANCE which tries to give us heroic Jewish partisans who protect their people and strike out at the Nazis whilst making the sort of speeches about freedom that American films inevitably make, regardless of period or suitability.
Unfortunately the film is a lie, which rather undermines its message. In reality the brothers collaborated with the Soviets during the joint Soviet-Nazi invasion of Poland. Understandably their neighbours loathed them for this so when the Nazis came the Bielskis were attacked and driven into the forest. There they set up a camp which gradually attracted more and more refugee Jews. Far from fighting the Nazis and attacking tanks, as the film depicts, they spent most of the war trying to survive. Which meant banditry as they attacked and robbed local villages. Not only that but they joined up with the Soviets again - one of the brothers might even have entered into the NKVD - and betrayed Polish nationalist (anti-Nazi, anti-Soviet) partisans. They even massacred a whole village of Poles on one occasion, even killing the women and children. So, not exactly the heroic freedom fighters the film depicts.
Of course the film is also terribly made so that doesn't matter too much. Whilst the script is mere fiction the direction is terrible. Moments that ought to be shocking, such as the discovery of a mass grave, are completely lacking in horror or sensitivity. The usual clichés - white horses, re-enactors with overly-clean uniforms, an ambush threatened when the enemy stop and one of them begins to urinate on the exact bush a partisan is hiding behind - are ticked off one by one. Despite costing several tens of millions of dollars the whole thing looks cheap. The film never achieves the horror, the immediacy or the reality of the partisan lifestyle. Nor is there any feeling of what eking out survival in the forest is really like. It doesn't exactly help either that two of the three leads, Daniel Craig and Jamie Bell, both look more like Nazis than the bad guys. The whole thing carries on in a wholly predictable manner to its obvious and unsatisfying conclusion. Watch COME AND SEE instead.
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