by NEVIL GIBSON
The best war movies these days are less about the horrors of conflict than the effects on people.
Cinema technology has also moved on so that combat is now mainly between computer-generated extra-terrestrials or superhumans.
But fascination with World War II remains high — in a list of 30 features and TV miniseries made since 2010, only a minority were primarily about military aspects. The rest were personal stories of resistance and survival.
The weighting was even heavier in the 2000-09 decade, when nearly 100 feature films had World War II themes. Of those released in New Zealand since 2008, Holocaust-themed and Nazi resistance films have proved popular.
The Reader, Valkyrie, Defiance, The Counterfeiters and The Boy in Striped Pajamas were among 2008’s best offerings, while Inglourious Basterds was nominated for 2010’s Academy Awards.
Last year was notable for two films on the French arrest of Jews (Sarah’s Key and The Roundup) as well as The Debt, while a Polish film, In Darkness, was a highlight of this year’s International Film Festival.
World War II documentaries, of course, are a fixture on Sky’s History Channel as well as at festivals, the most shocking of which was An Unfinished Film (2010), which made use of Nazi film footage shot in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Germany itself has contributed to this output, with perhaps the best known being Downfall (2004) and Sophie Scholl (2005).
The latest, Wunderkinder (Umbrella), is presented entirely in German with English subtitles, although all of the action is set in the Ukrainian city of Poltava, then part of the Soviet Union, in 1941.
The local brewery is run by a wealthy German family, whose violin-playing daughter longs to play as an equal with two musical prodigies, a boy violinist and a girl pianist, who are both Jewish.
The initial stages of their friendship are set in the brief period of the non-aggression pact between Stalin and Hitler. But with the German invasion, the three youngsters’ families are torn apart — the German family is hunted by the Soviet secret police, but gain protection from their Jewish friends.
Later, as the German occupation takes holds, the German family is restored to running the brewery and in turn hides the Jews, who become hunted by the Nazis.
In scenes of heavy irony, the young musicians literally play for their lives before both Soviet and Nazi officials on separate occasions, with well-known works by Brahms (Hungarian Dance), Borodin, Mozart and Rimsky Korsakov (Flight of the Bumblebee).
But any hope of music and friendship transcending the events around them is futile in a story, told in flashback, that should have wide appeal.
German director Marcus Rosenmueller has been rewarded with strong performances by his young teenaged cast, headed by the remarkable violinist Elin Kolev, who has played Carnegie Hall in real life, and his film performances are also real. He is ably supported by pianist Imogen Burrell and violinist Mathilda Adamik, whose musical abilities are as convincing as their acting.
Mature audiences; 100 minutes.
by NEVIL GIBSON