Fugitive Pieces by Jeremy Podeswa

I did not witness the most important events of my life, notes Jakob Beer, the writer and WWII survivor who is the central character in Canadian poet Anne Michaels critically acclaimed and internationally best-selling novel, “Fugitive Pieces.”

Orphaned during WWII and propelled to an unforeseen destiny, Beer struggles with the memory of his familys death, simultaneously tormented and transformed by haunting recollections of his family killed during the war. His story, a powerful personal history and a poetic tale of love, loss, and redemption, is beautifully brought to life in “Fugitive Pieces,” a film based on Michaels contemporary classic.

Adapted for the screen and directed by Jeremy Podeswa, who previous directed The Five Senses and Eclipse, Fugitive Pieces is an eloquent and provocative drama that reaffirms the importance of compassion in an often inhumane world.

The films ensemble cast includes Stephen Dillane (THE HOURS, WELCOME TO SARAJEVO), Rade Sherbedgia (BEFORE THE RAIN, EYES WIDE SHUT), Rosamund Pike (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE) and Ayelet Zurer (MUNICH). FUGITIVE PIECES was produced
by Robert Lantos, who recently enjoyed great critical and commercial success with his award-winning production, BEING JULIA.

The novel “Fugitive Pieces” was published in 1996. Universally acclaimed, it won Englands prestigious Orange Prize, Ontarios Trillium Award, the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Giuseppe Acerbi Literary Award, among others. It was also short-listed for Canadas Giller Prize. In Canada, “Fugitive Pieces” was on the national bestsellers list for more than two years and the novel has been published in 30 countries.

Although many producers approached author Anne Michaels about dramatizing her novel, she was reluctant to give her approval. I waited a
long time before handing it over to anyone to do as a film because I believed that whoever represented this on screen would have to have a deep understanding of the sanctity of it, she explains. Michaels story is complex, poetic, and metaphoric, challenging qualities to preserve in a screen adaptation.

Jeremy Podeswa read the novel when it was first published and was deeply affected by it. I was incredibly moved by the characters story, the
tragedy in his childhood that haunts him and the woman who transforms his life in adulthood. “Fugitive Pieces” has profound things to say about trauma, memory and the redemptive power of love. I thought it would make an incredible movie, he recalls.

The story stayed with him and after a few years and several directing projects, including THE FIVE SENSES, Podeswa decided to pursue the project. A Canadian company had the rights to the novel, and I approached them about writing and directing it. They saw “The Five Senses,” which had just premiered at Cannes, and liked it, as did the author Anne Michaels, and we decided to go ahead with the film adaptation.

Michaels was impressed by the fact that Podeswa, whose father is a Holocaust survivor, felt a strong connection to the material. I knew that Jeremy had a personal stake in the telling of the story and that, in the end, is what moved me, says Michaels. He understood that the book was not only about the relationship between memory and history and the relationship between men and women, but the relationship between men and men, she adds.

Podeswa wanted to capture the essence of the novel as well as its poetry. It wasnt about being extremely literal or having everything that was in the book in the movie. But from the beginning, I knew we had to use the specific language of the book, its most distinctive quality. Narration was, in my opinion, essential. Finding an interesting and unexpected way to use the narration became the challenge, Podeswa explains. The book deals with
narrative in a very complex way and I felt the movie needed to mirror that, he adds. The most interesting way to tell the story would be to reflect these fugitive pieces by weaving in and out of different periods.

Memory and Perception

Both the novel and movie are largely about memory, history and perception. For Podeswa, it was important that the past and the present be
represented on equal terms, which meant that Jakob should live equally in the past and in the present. The young Jakob and the adult Jakob coexist at the same time, so we see him as a boy and we see him as an adult, living in two time periods simultaneously, Podeswa explains. As pure structural form, it really reflects a large part of the theme of the storythat history is
in us. Everything that came before us is part of who we are. We are the repository of our familys histories, of our cultures history, and our countrys history. We embody that. The past and the present live within us.

Like Podeswa, producer Robert Lantos was captivated by the novel when he experienced it for the first time. Having produced SUNSHINE,
another epic story about the perseverance of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable adversity, Lantos was not daunted by the challenge of dramatizing Michaels intricate and emotionally-charged material. When he discovered the rights had already been optioned, he approached the producer and made a deal. Jeremy Podeswa was already attached to the film, recalls Lantos. I was very impressed with everything he had done. He managed to write a powerful screenplay based on a book that seemed to defy adaptation.

Podeswa approached the project knowing that casting would be a critical part of the job. He wanted actors who would be credible, but also
thoughtful and connected to the material. In a way, youre casting a person whom you want to embody the values of your story, Podeswa explains. I set out to cast actors who understood what the script was trying to say and who had an emotional connection with their characters.

Casting Stephen Dillane

The pivotal role in “Fugitive Pieces” is that of the adult Jakob, a character who is simultaneously burdened and empowered by his past. This is the story of a man whose entire life is haunted by the events he witnessed
as a child, and his guilt for having survived when his parents and sister did not. Its the story of a man imprisoned by his memory, who in middle age, through the love of a woman, is transformed, says producer Robert Lantos. We needed an exceptional actor to pull off a role that is so deeply internal. Jeremy and I thought Stephen Dillane could more than meet the challenge.

Podeswa knew Dillane to be an actor with a strong emotional center. He can do very little and speak volumes. And that is very important with this character. I had seen many of his films, but I had also seen his stage
work-most recently his one-man MACBETH in Los Angeles, in which he showed an incredible range. Dillane is a serious actor with all the qualities of a leading man. A perfect Jakob, says Podeswa.

Jakob as a Child

“Fugitive Pieces” also portrays Jakob as a child, and casting this role was very difficult because Podeswa wanted a young actor who was fresh, original and free of mannerisms. He mounted an international search, working with casting directors in London, Prague and Budapest. They auditioned over a hundred and fifty boys before finding 10 year old Robbie Kay. Ironically, although his audition tape came from Prague, Kay was a British expatriate who had been living with his family in Prague for two years. Podeswa was struck by Kays intuitive acting talent and his ability to look incredibly fragile. When he immersed himself in his role, Kay became Jakob. His transformation was so complete that Podeswa says it was impossible to
find traces of the real Kay in his character.