Author: Roselyne Bosch
Writer’s Potential: 8
Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]
While French politicians and military officials negotiate the best way to organize the round-up of 20,000 “stateless” Jews, the Weismanns and Zyglers start to notice the oppression creeping into their daily lives. Friends and colleagues are fired, local shops refuse to serve them, police harass them for no clear reason, etc. They have to scramble to maintain their typical way of life. Ultimately, the negotiation results in a list of 24,000 Jews in the Paris region. The Germans want the children to go into France’s foster care system, but Laval refuses it, saying their social services are already overburdened. He insists it would be best for the children to accompany their parents. Jo’s introduced to new neighbors, the Traubes. He’s immediately smitten with RENEE (13). The new family is very enthusiastic until they realize how difficult life has become for Jews in Paris. Their oldest daughter, HANNAH (18), is forbidden from participating in athletics programs at her school. As the Germans and French complete plans for the round-up, rumors begin swirling through the Jewish neighborhoods. Rachel urges her parents to get out of France. Schmuel believes whatever’s coming will be another false alarm.
At 4 a.m. the next morning, French and German authorities start knocking on the doors of the Jewish families on their lists. Many resist and hide. The Weismanns, the Zyglers, and the Traubes aren’t so lucky. The Weismanns almost manage to hide Schmuel — Sura tells the authorities he recently died — but ignorant Jo opens his big mouth. Louise Zygler manages to escape with the help of a few prostitutes and a kind-hearted priest. After graduating from nursing school, Annette is order to go to the Velodrome D’Hiver stadium, the largest arena in France, where 8,000 Jews have been crammed together and are in urgent need of care. Annette is horrified by the wailing and groaning. She’s introduced to DR. DAVID SHEINBAUM (50s), the physician in charge of their medical care. He’s livid when she announces she’s the only one who’s been sent from her school. He only has six nurses to cover 8,000 people, many of whom have been injured during their arrests. Annette is shown around by another nurse. She runs into Nono, who tells them Simon is sick and they’re both looking for Bella. The nurse quietly tells Annette that Bella’s mother had a miscarriage and died at the hospital. Annette doesn’t have the heart to tell Nono. Annette’s alarmed that these two boys are alone, but Jo introduces her to his family, insisting they’ll all stay together.
While they work, Sheinbaum asks Annette about her religious background. She’s the Protestant daughter of a pastor; despite what she’s seen, she still has faith. Sheinbaum has no response. In the stands, Jo spots Hannah Traube. She’s wearing a sign announcing an illness that is not enough to get her sent to the hospital. Sheinbaum asks if she’s trying to escape. Hannah doesn’t respond. Sheinbaum sends her to the master plumber, who’s providing fake jobs to help people without families to escape. Hannah manages to get free. Annette asks why Sheinbaum doesn’t leave; he asks her who would replace him. After a few days, the nurses are so revolted by the conditions that they talk about resigning together. Annette says they need to stay to look after these people, especially the orphaned children. Against orders, a group of firemen begin spraying hoses into the stands so the Jews have something to drink.
A few more days pass, and the German SS arrives. Sheinbaum sees what an emotional and physical toll this is taking on her. The SS starts sending Jews to concentration camps. Annette asks Sheinbaum if she can go with them. He can’t do much more than support her request. The Weismanns and Zygler children are crammed onto the same train and taken to a concentration camp in Beaune. The conditions are filthy, but the Jews have no idea what’s in store, so they enter without fear. Jo points out how disgusting the barracks mattresses are. Schmuel assumes people slept in them before they did. Jo wonders what happened to them, which fills Schmuel with fear. Annette is introduced to the other nurses, including PAULE (19). Annette wonders why they lack so many provisions. Paule doesn’t know and tries not to think about it. When she visits the orphan barracks, Nono asks Annette about Bella. Annette tells him that giving birth tired her out.
Jo sees Renee, his dream girl, and realizes the Taubes are in Beaune, too. He greets her. While eating, Jo almost swallows a weevil crawling in his gruel and spits it out. One of the French soldiers misinterprets this as an insult. Jo insists he was merely spitting out the weevil, and Sheinbaum backs him up. Schmuel attacks the soldier, with Sheinbaum trying to separate them. The soldier announces they’ll be the first on the “next convoy.” Annette decides to eat the same rations that the Jews are stuck with to show that they can’t survive on it. Paule cynically assumes the higher ups already know this. Nevertheless, she attempts to write a letter to expose the conditions. Jo, Simon, and Nono can smell cookies at a nearby factory. They daydream about them. Hannah appears outside the camp with a care package for the Traubes, filled with candy. Meanwhile, Hitler and his friends have loads of fun with a marzipan likeness of the F√ºhrer.
After a couple of months in the camps, the gaunt, disease-ridden Jews are led to a train that will ultimately take them to the death camps. Realizing they’re being stripped of their last remaining possessions, Sura throws her jewelry into the feces-caked latrines. The other women follow suit. The SS runs out of room on the trains, so the SS decides to leave most of the children behind to wait for another train that will arrive in two weeks. Annette is forced to say a tearful goodbye to Sheinbaum, who, as a Jew, is sent with the adults to the death camps. A few days later, Jo decides to leave the camp. He tries to convince Simon to come with him, but Simon won’t leave without Nono, who’s too small to handle the trip. He introduces himself to another kid, Joseph KOGAN, who wants to escape. Jo prowls through the feces until he finds a wad of cash. They wrap themselves like mummies in old clothes to slip through the barbed wire fences and start running like maniacs.
Meanwhile, Laval discusses the concentration camp with two U.S. government officials. Together, it dawns on them that these Jews are being taken to Germany as part of a race purification. The other kids are loaded into cattle cars to go to the death camp. Annette meets the new doctor, JOUSSE, but she’s in a hurry to accompany the children. Jousse stops her, saying he’s with the French resistance, and he knows all the details of the death camps. Annette is horrified. Nono viciously resists being loaded into the train — he wants to wait for his mother. Eventually, Jo and Kogan come upon a farm, where they’re fed and cared for until gendarme soldiers arrive. Despite this bad luck, the soldiers are sympathetic to Jo and Kogan. They hide the boys in a train station until morning, where they’re able to get on a bus driven by one soldier’s brother-in-law. Jo watches the death camp train roll by.
May, 1945. Now 13, Jo waits in a hotel with a huge group of other Jews. They await the announcements of people who have survived the camps and people who haven’t. To Jo’s surprise, Annette is there, with hundreds of children she managed to rescue from the camps. He tells Annette he met good people who want to adopt him. Annette is pleased. She asks Jo to write to him. A farming couple drag Nono, now 8, into the hotel. He’s haunted and doesn’t speak. They say they found him on the railroad, and they think he fell of the train. Annette recognizes him instantly, but it’s unclear if he recognizes her — until he wraps his arms around her. Jo meets with his adoptive parents. They go to a park, where he’s able to laugh and have fun without a car in the world.
The story handles topics many people know a great deal about in fairly unique ways. The writer focuses on less well-known aspects of World War II and the Holocaust — notably, the suffering children, the Jewish physicians, the young nurses, and the ignorance of many politicians and military officials — and does a pretty good job of constructing a story around these ideas.
The first act follows Jo (and his family and friends) from the moment he’s branded with yellow Stars of David. Although it’s clear where the story is headed, the writer manages to build some suspense as the treatment of the Weismanns by gentiles deteriorates, ultimately leading to the eponymous “round up.” The writer also does a fairly good job of efficiently explaining all the necessary political background; it only occasionally feels on-the-nose.
The second act introduces the script’s most harrowing and surprising sequence — shoving thousands of injured, ill, and/or orphaned Jews into a single, mammoth arena, left to the care of a beleaguered doctor, a few nurses and a small group of volunteers. It’s a very disturbing sequence that’s all too fleeting, as the huge group is quickly divided up and put on trains to concentration camps. Strangely, the concentration camp scenes do not have quite the same frightening effect as the round up in the arena. While upsetting, they have a peculiar by-the-numbers quality, and they tend to get melodramatic as the emotions get raw. Aside from the scenes with Annette and Sheinbaum, much of what occurs in the Beaune camp has been seen in other films.
The third act chronicles Jo’s escape from Beaune after his family is ushered off to the death camps. Unfortunately, the writer starts off the screenplay by inserting file footage of the real-life, elderly Jo trying to describe his experience. This eliminates any suspense regarding Jo’s survival, which makes the details of his escape a little less compelling than they could have been. On the other hand, the writer manages to make Annette’s shock upon discovering the death camps heart-rending.
The script has a massive ensemble, but it emphasizes Jo and Annette more than the others. The writer does a nice job of showing Jo’s youthful ingenuity and iron will to survive early in the script, since this spark fuels his eventual escape. She also manages to capture the slow crush of the concentration camp lifestyle. Despite his fear, Jo never seems to lose his spirit, but he does react quite powerfully to those close to him slowly losing the will to live. Annette has a similar arc, taking on the burden of the people she cares for without ever giving up the fight for the rights they should have.
As for the rest of the ensemble, the writer manages to give tiny shreds of depth and nuance to each of the supporting players, no matter how brief or thankless their role. From the military men coordinating the round up to the farm couple who turn in Jo and Kogan, everyone seems to have a small amount of individuality. This helps make the political intrigue more digestible, and the scope of characters will allow audiences to understand the wide variety of thoughts, attitudes, and emotions felt throughout France and Germany at the time.
The strong characters certainly make it easier to look past the story problems, but if the filmmakers don’t cast equally strong actors in the roles, the end result may fall flat.
Posted by D. B. Bates on October 29, 2009 10:11 PM