Fugitive Pieces: Jeremy Podeswa’s Tale of Love, Loss and Redemption

Having begun with “small” gay and intimate tales (“Eclipse,” “The Five Senses”), Canadian filmmaker Jeremy Podeswa continues to develop and sharpen his helming skills, as manifest in his latest film, “Fugitive Pieces,” arguably his most mature and personal work to date.

In this ambitious, but not entirely effective saga, Podeswa aims for a powerful yet lyrical film about love, loss and redemption, set against the context of the Holocaust and its aftermath. Based on the best-selling novel of Canadian poet Anne Michaels (which I have not read), the film centers on Jakob Beer, a man whose life is transformed by his childhood experiences during WWII.

Jakob’s story begins in Poland in 1942, when he is nine years old, facing the harsh reality of Nazi soldiers who have murdered his parents and abducted his teenage sister, Bella. Traumatized by this horrific event, Jakob sneaks out of his hiding place and struggles to survive. He is found by Athos Roussos (the great actor Rade Sherbedgia), a Greek archaeologist working at a Polish dig site in Biskupin.

Moved by the child’s plight, Athos boldly smuggles Jakob out of Poland and hides him in his home on the island of Zakynthos in Greece, which is also occupied by the Germans. The eternally grateful Jakob spends the last years of the Occupation in Athos’ tender care.

After the War, Athos and Jakob immigrate to Canada, where Athos has accepted a teaching position with a University. As he matures, Jakob (now played by Stephen Dillane, who was in “The Hours,” among other achievements) begins a new life, studying, writing, and eventually falling in love with Alex (Rosamund Pike, who recently co-starred opposite Ryan Gosling in the thriller “), a beautiful young woman.

Yet he remains haunted by his parents’ death and the question of his sister’s fate. This terrible burden makes it impossible for him to live in the moment or to accept love when it is offered to him. The creative activity of writing provides some relief, but it is not until he meets Michaela (Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer, who was in “Munich” and has just been cast as the leading lady in “Angels & Demons”), a gentle femme who understands and accepts his pain, that Jakob allows himself to join the living, literally and figuratively.

The ensuing saga assumes the shape of a memory film, depicting how the lessons that Jakob had learned become a legacy to Ben (Ed Stoppard), a child of survivors whose life intersects with Jakob’s in some unpredictable yet meaningful ways.

It would be unfair to label “Fugitive Pieces” as just another Holocaust survival talein some themes, it recalls Polanski’s Oscar-winning saga “The Pianist” with Adrien Brody.

A challenging and often demanding film, “Fugitive Pieces” suffers from some structural and tonal problems. Yet through its multi-generational plot, the films adds a new angle to the growing, honorable body of literary and cinematic works about the Holocaust, a catastrophic phenomenon that should be visited and revisited.

Podeswa’s entrepreneurial producer, Robert Lantos (who made several of Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg’s best features, along with “Sunshine”) should be commended for tackling such difficult material and bringing it to the big screen.

Cast

Jakob (Stephen Dillane)
Athos (Rade Sherbedgia)
Alex (Rosamund Pike)
Michaela (Ayelet Zurer)
Jakob as boy (Robbie Kay)
Ben (Ed Stoppard)
Naomi (Rachelle Lefevre)
Bella (Nina Dobrev)
Mrs. Serenou (Themis Bazaka)
Jozef (Diego Matamoros)
Sara (Sarah Orenstein)
Irena (Larissa Laskin)
Maurice (Daniel Kash)
Ioannis (Yorgos Karamichos)
Allegra (Danae Skiadi)

Credits

Samuel Goldwyn Release of Canada/Greece co-production of Canada’s Serendipity Point Films, Athens-based Cinegram S.A. and Strada Productions.
Produced by Robert Lantos.
Co-produced by Sandra Cunningham, Dionyssis Samiotis and Takis Veremis.
Directed and written by Jeremy Podeswa, screenplay based upon the novel by Anne Michaels.