01 February, 2014

Atlanta Jewish Film Festival kicks off with "Run Boy Run" (***½)

'Snow Jam 2014' postponed opening night events until Thursday, but the popular film festival was still kickstarted in style.

The beautiful Cobb Energy Centre, home to the AJFF opening night extravaganza.

I suppose just about everyone knows what this week looked like in Atlanta. Mid-day Tuesday, as the entire Metro Area poured out of their workplaces and schools, simultaneously making their way home, the snow began to cover the roads with equal fervor. Needless to say, the resulting mess brought international attention to the city.

Wednesday, nearly everything was shut down—schools, offices, Starbucks, even the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival's opening night gala and film presentation. Strangely enough, last year's January weather was extreme in a different way. Severe thunderstorms and tornado warnings forced AJFF to issue a weather alert via email reminding patrons to drive carefully to the opening night event.

Alas, Georgia's less-than-predictable weather can only postpone—not cancel—events as big as the Southeast's largest film festival and the opening night festivities went on as planned just one day later at the Cobb Energy Centre in Vinings. The chosen film was "Run Boy Run" and director Pepe Danquart was in attendance along with a couple thousand of the city's film fans. —Cameron McAllister

Twin brothers Andrzej & Kamil Tkacz share the lead role in "Run Boy Run"

"Run Boy Run" ("Lauf Junge Lauf"), directed by Oscar-winner Pepe Danquart, follows a young Jewish boy after his escape from a Warsaw Ghetto. Set in the dreary backwoods and wide-open farmlands of Germany during WWII, Danquart establishes every single shot—no matter how menacing—as its own work of art. The film does fall short of any real surprises, but is anchored by solid performances and Daniel Gottschalk's beautiful dreamlike visuals that constantly evoke feelings of terror as well as hope.

Srulik (played by twins Andrzej and Kamil Tkacz) is a relentless and brave little boy who is forced to take shelter wherever he can find it after being told by his father to run away and to never forget where he came from. Srulik takes on a new name in an effort to blend in as a Polish boy. He meets a group of young children surviving on their own in the wilderness and is quickly welcomed in by them. The group manages to get separated almost immediately, which is a telling hint of how the rest of Srulik’s relationships will go.

Danquart keeps thing moving and never lets us get too comfortable with the way things are going. The movie’s fast pace is interrupted only a few times by some gorgeous meditative scenes in which the acting and the cinematography rival to outshine each other. The most notable and significant encounter that Srulik has is an early one. An older Polish woman, Magda, who is accustomed to helping Jews, takes him in and teaches him everything he needs to know to survive while hiding among Germans. She quickly becomes the mother that Srulik is so obviously missing. Magda transforms Srulik into a new person—an obedient, Jesus-loving Jurek, whose family was killed in a recent attack on his home village. Magda’s clear influence on the boy is massively important throughout the rest of his exhausting journey. Srulik often succeeds in fooling people about his identity, but many, including one particularly villainous general, see through his lies.

The movie is very straightforward and isn’t terribly unique in the way of narrative. Many of the side characters are quickly forgotten, but due to Srulik’s constant relocation, perhaps this is intentional. Brothers Andrzej and Kamil play this part extremely well. Srulik is always vulnerable but never weak. There is a constantly growing drive behind his eyes that reminds the audience just how strong he has become.

"Run Boy Run," Danquart’s fourth full-length feature film, is a powerful and intimate glimpse into the journey of one innocent boy who was swept up into something that he could never fully understand. Shining past the wonderful performances and spectacular cinematography is the film’s emphasis on the importance of identity and the impact that the kindness of strangers can have on our lives.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

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