In Cinemas now
(Reviewed by John Glennie)
This movie, based on a true story, is set in 1943 in Nazi-occupied France. There is a small village high in the stunning Pyrenees that has been isolated from the conflict of war-torn Europe. Young Jo (Noah Schnapp) goes about life as normal tending to his grandfather’s sheep. When he dozes off he is awakened by his trusty canine companion barking furiously, only to be confronted by a bear. After raising the alarm in the village and the subsequent slaying of the animal, Jo goes searching for his dog. He is confronted by a stranger who has taken custody of the bear’s young cub. He threatens to tell the village the boy had fallen asleep if he tells the villagers about the stranger.
Curiosity leads Jo to follow the man to a local widow’s home where he overhears the widow admonishing the man about being seen by the young lad. Next day, Jo returns with fresh milk to feed the bear cub, and discovers a young girl hiding in the barn. It ends out that the woman (Anjelica Huston) and the man are smuggling Jewish children over the Pyrenees into Spain and safety.
Everything changes when the Nazis suddenly turn up in the village to make it a base for their soldiers to patrol the border for the people smugglers. There is constant tension as the thorough and suspicious Germans are always on alert. Jo has to maintain total secrecy and you are always aware that he is treading a fine line when one of the German officers seems to befriend him and wants to join him on his excursions into the mountains.
Jo asks the stranger why he doesn’t escape over the border with the children, and is told he is waiting ofr his daughter Anya to arrive. They had pledged that, if separated, they would meet at Anya’s grandmother’s house (the widow). Throughout, it seems apparent that his hopes of reuniting with his daughter – whom he smuggled onto a civilian train when they were being loaded onto freight trains with the other ill-fated Jews at the start of the movie – are totally futile.
I found the movie quite gripping, knowing how ruthlessly efficient the Germans were in World War II. The spectacular scenery also helped to set the scene and provide an incredible backdrop to the story. Must admit I was very surprised to see that it only has an average rating on key web sites, as I was quite impressed with this wonderful movie.