Fugitive Pieces touches on themes of survivor guilt but only manages to tread the deep psychological water.
It’s hard to believe that there are many highbrow Holocaust-themed novels yet to be plundered for Hollywood box-office receipts. But Fugitive Pieces may well put an end to the trend. Based on Canadian Anne Michaels’ Orange-prize-winner, the film touches on themes of survivor guilt but only manages to tread the deep psychological water.
After witnessing the death of his parents and his beloved older sister’s abduction by Nazi guards, Polish-born Jakob (newcomer Robbie Kay, fiercely expressive) flees his family home. He is found quivering, half-buried and corpse-like in a pile of leaves by Greek archaeologist Athos (Rade Serbedzija), who smuggles him to his native island and keeps him in hiding throughout the war.
The arresting opening sequence gives way to a lukewarm examination of the middle-aged Jakob’s (Stephen Dillane) sorry mess of a personal life. The childhood scenes are the most compelling, with Kay’s largely wordless performance conveying the physically and emotionally stunting effects of his early trauma and time spent in hiding. Tellingly, Jakob only pipes up when, after the war, he and Athos move to Canada, and he overhears his new neighbours speaking Yiddish.
Despite a rich premise, the soul-searching of the older Jakob is, at best, curiously colourless; at worst, positively grating. This is in no way helped by the paper-thin characterisation of his free spirit of a wife, Alex (Rosamund Pike), whom Jakob married in the doomed hope of curing his understandably gloomy demeanour.
Her fun-loving, impulsive credentials are sealed by flashback montages of their blooming relationship, which show her buying and wearing (straight off the shelf!) red stilettos in a downpour, laughing in Jakob’s face the first time they have sex and gleeful delivery of such asinine announcements as, "I’ve learnt some Jewish!"
Our sympathy is with Jakob when he grows tired of her "shameless vitality", which Alex doesn’t take kindly to reading about in his diary. With her out of the way, Jakob is free to explore his identity with a little downtime in Greece, exorcise his ghosts and discover the redemptive power of love. Who needs history when the movies tell it so much better?
Would it be wrong to confess to Holocaust movie ennui?
Beige in Yiddish, beige in Greek, beige in Canada.
A whiter shade of beige.