It Can't Happen Here
Though still only early on in August and following by less than one week a real throwback heat wave, such cooler days as today fool us, or allow us to fool ourselves, and ignore the handwriting of imminent climate catastrophe. So, too, Europe's Jews in the late '30s, like the decorated Jewish Great War veteran in Ship of Fools, or like Jakub Silberstein in the vastly moving Czech film, All My Loved Ones.
Doktor Silberstein's "this is not Nazi Germany, this is Czechoslovakia" is the deluding mantra of Prague's sizable Jewish community in 1938-39. Only too late do they realize the prescience of Stein, who, for "reasons of business," sells his holdings at a loss to move to Illinois, USA. During the prelude to the first truly filmed war, they sit in the Biograf Lido and watch brief newsreels of Hitler's encroachments, but until the Rubicon of Poland -- never mentioned -- and closing of frontiers, flight to Palestine or Paris is not considered. For they are Czechs, too, and this is home.
Matej Minac's film will inevitably invite comparisons with Schindler's List, though a more appropriate parallel is De Sica's 1971 The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. "Based very closely on a real story," Jiri Hubac's quiet screenplay does pay homage to Nicholas Winton, who got 669 children out (sometimes with falsified visas) and placed with English families, and a short coda shows that British stockbroker's recent tearful BBC reunion with those now-elderly children. But there is no struggle and development within the Winton character nor any of the contrasting, visceral pure evil of Ralph Fiennes' Amon Goeth.
Rather, the visual focus is on the varied, rich family and cultural life of three generations of Silbersteins -- husbands, wives, uncles and parents, a violinist, cantor, medical practitioner and even a traveling Wild West performer -- and their stately but deceptive city of parks, monuments, avenues, bridges and statues. Like the garden wall of De Sica's film family, the Jews' cultural milieu and family ties momentarily protect against, but also blind them to, growing evil. Storm troopers here are not dwelt on, nor do we see their violence; Nazi Youth do not retaliate, and nastiness is as banal (but dangerous) as a fat, bristle-mustached and march-obsessed German-speaking gardener.
Evil in the film is gradual and silent, it is economic and legalistic and unveils only at its seeming final triumph. Fittingly, symbolically, we view this changing world really through the eyes and gift-camera of young David, innocent enough to learn and sing National Socialist marching songs, sit on Wehrmacht sidecar motorcycles and perform his own "marriage" to his ten-year-old friend Sosha Klein.
Through paper mistakes, fate and ill-timing, only David escapes. He survives, grudgingly carrying along his violin -- "That's why the Smiths chose you" -- and the continuity it symbolizes. (Uncle Sam must sell his own concert instrument -- uselessly, as it turns out.) But hindsight warns that the warm culture so lovingly imaged here did not survive. In effectively period-muted colors, in the morning mist and changing seasons, in the real emotions and loves and betrayals and opportunism, in its music score deriving from études and concerti, All My Loved Ones is finely crafted homage to a lamented way of life that is no more, that died violently and too swiftly and soon. Life and love do continue, partly in the heart's memory: "If your fear is greater than your love, I pity you," says Sam. Worlds disappear -- this European world did -- but their dignity and warmth may carry on to grace and inform the future.
There was applause, and moist eyes, among the press screening audience. Not easy, sentimental tears, but in acknowledgement of human life and strength and of a creative effort -- this film -- so well realized. One hopes it will find the larger distribution and appreciation so often, and unfortunately, denied small-market foreign or independent works.
(Released with subtitles by Northern Arts Entertainment; not rated by MPAA.)