Stories of the Holocaust have been told ad nauseum over the years, and while preserving historical records is absolutely important, very few films have made a significant impact in the last decade. The Zookeeper's Wife recently failed to stir an emotional response from audiences while Alone In Berlin didn't really resonate either, and then Denial made no impact at all. I guess as time passes us by, the personal connection to those dark days has faded, and those who tell the stories rely on context being passed down to them. The distance between now and then, as well as the abundance of relatable films in the past, has made those stories less relevant and with so many new horrors consuming our world, there hardly seems time to look back anymore.
Fortunately BAG OF MARBLES comes to us fresh, and because the story is seen through the eyes of children it strikes an effective balance between historical drama and childhood adventure. The film follows two young brothers, Joseph and Maurice, who live a happy life in Paris. Their days consist of attending school, playing marbles and riding bicycles, but when the Nazis force their way into Paris and occupy the city their parents send them away. Given a map to follow, and money for travel, they are told to find their way to the demilitarised zone in the north of France, where their parents would find them when it is safe to do so. As the brothers make their way across the increasingly unstable country, their paths cross with an assortment of characters, including merciless members of Hitler's army and fellow Jews who are also fleeing.
On the surface the story is conventional and it is the type of narrative that we've seen many times, however the performances from the two leading children are wonderful and they give the film an energy that few similarly themed titles have done before. As the brothers cross picturesque French landscapes and pass through beautiful villages, their youthful innocence paints a stark contrast to the horrors that surround them. And as their story unfolds, and the weight of their ordeal builds on them, we bare witness to a remarkable coming of age story.
The brothers are played by Dorian Le Clech and Batyste Fleurial, who have very little film-work between them. Together they bring an energetic and youthful zest for life to the story, and with very innocent and photogenic faces they light up the screen, offering the audience a tangible point of emotional connection.
Of course the film is full of horrors, and the severity of Nazi occupation is represented. Director Christian Duguay (Scanners 2, Screamers, The Assignment) cleverly aligns these moments in such a way that we catch fleeting glimpses of the atrocities, before the camera turns its attention to the boys and hones in on their reactions. It's a smart point of direction and to watch the Nazi occupation through the eyes of children makes for a unique and sincere viewing experience.
There aren't many qualms with BAG OF MARBLES, aside from it's lengthy duration. It overstays its welcome by ten to fifteen minutes and would have benefited from a tighter running time. Fortunately the stuff that the film could do without is found somewhere in the middle, leaving the first and final acts with the strength to maintain the viewer's attention. And what is presented is a heartwarming - often heartbreaking - coming of age story of brotherly love, hope and resilience. The real shame is that with all of the other Holocaust films that have missed the mark this year, a real gem like this is the one that receives the least attention and barely makes a bleep on people's radar. So track it down and check it out.
BAG OF MARBLES IS NOW AVAILABLE THROUGH UMBRELLA ENTERTAINMENT.