Friday, 18 May 2012

Army of Saviours (3½ Stars)

This is a difficult film to rate. Did I enjoy it? In part, yes. I found the story fascinating, but at the same time alienating.

This is a true story, based on the autobiography of Marga Spiegel. In 1918 Menne Spiegel was a hero who fought for Germany and was awarded the Iron Cross for bravery. 25 years later he's considered an enemy of the German people, because he's a Jew. In 1943 he lives in the Westfalian town Ahlen with his wife Marga and his daughter Karin. The next day all the Jews are going to be sent to "work camps", but Menne has heard rumours that nobody returns from these camps alive. He persuades his wife to go into hiding on the farm of an old army comrade, Hermann Aschoff. Since his wife and daughter are blonde and don't look like Jews they can live in the open with false names, claiming that they have lost their home in a bomb raid. Menne himself has a typical Jewish appearance, so he has to be hidden in the barn of another farmer, Pentrop. Since the two farms are adjacent this leads to the absurd situation that Menne can look through the window of the barn and spy on his wife and daughter, but he can't leave the barn to talk to her.

The strength of this film is the portrayal of simple German farmers as heroes. Most of the friends and family of the farmers are loyal Nazis, so apart from the farmers themselves nobody can be told the truth about Marga. It focuses on the close friendship between Marga and Hermann's wife Anni, the only other person to be let in on the secret. The weakness of the film, for me at least, is its episodic character. Rather than showing a continuous story it shows disjointed scenes that occurred at random intervals during the two years the family was hidden. But I admit that this might be my problem. The film isn't meant to be entertaining, it has a documentary character.

The heroism of the farmers was successful. In 1943 there were 98 Jews who lived in Ahlen. 95 were sent to the work camps. None of them returned. At the end of the war Menne and his family were the only survivors.

Here's a trailer of the film when it was shown in American cinemas with the title "Saviours in the Night". The English DVD release is called "Army of Saviours".

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