Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Uprising (4½ Stars)

"Can a moral man retain his moral code in an immoral world?"

This is the 13th film starring Leelee Sobieski, made in 2001 when she was 18. It was made for television in America, but it was released in cinemas in several other countries. It's one of the most powerful made-for-television films ever. It's all the more remarkable that Leelee Sobieski was able to carry the lead role at such a young age.

Approximately 400,000 Jews were forced to live in a 3.4 square kilometre area of Warsaw, hemmed in by a wall. This was a storage facility while the Germans were waiting for their concentration camps to become operational. Only 50 Jews escaped. The rest were either deported to Treblinka, killed by the Germans or died of starvation.

The film is based on biographies and other first person reports by survivors. It begins in the relative calm of 1939 when the Jews still had hopes that the Germans could be reasoned with. The mood changed drastically in 1942 when Jews were rounded up to be shipped to Treblinka to be killed. That's when the resistance started. Leelee Sobieski plays Tosia Altman, one of the leading resistance fighters. Due to her blonde hair she was able to pass for an Aryan, so she slipped in and out of the Ghetto. In the early years she smuggled food into the Ghetto, in the later years it was weapons.

The final battle, the uprising itself, began in January 1943. The resistance was fierce, and many Germans were killed in the fighting, but the outcome was inevitable. In April the Jews decided to give up the fight. There were plans to evacuate the last few thousand Jews via the sewers, but due to betrayal by an informant most of the escape routes were blocked and only 50 escaped. Tosia was one of the Jews who escaped, but her luck didn't last. A week later she was captured by the Germans and executed.

The Germans systematically destroyed all the houses in the Ghetto, especially houses in which they suspected Jews were hiding.

I feel tempted to say that this was one of the greatest performances of Leelee Sobieski's career, but her talent is so immense that she has had many greatest performances. No other actress could have portrayed Tosia Altman so well. The real Tosia was only a few years older than Leelee: 21 in 1939 and 25 at the time of her death.

Tosia had to crawl over piles of dead bodies on her journeys in and out of the Ghetto.

This is a photo of the wall surrounding the Warsaw Ghetto taken in 1941, before the final liquidation of the Jews began. As you can see, this was the inspiration for the Berlin Wall built 20 years later. The German Democratic Republic (DDR) claimed to be Communist, but it maintained the spirit of the Third Reich.

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