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aka - Train de Vie
2000
Directed by
Radu Mihaileanu


Reviewed by
Bill Hubbard
3.5 stars

Train of Life

Synopsis: In 1941 a small Jewish rural community it threatened by the approach of the Nazis. Desperate to protect themselves when Shlomo, regarded as the village dunce, suggests they deport themselves to Palestine, thus preempting their would-be oppressors they jump at the scheme with alacrity.

Recalling Begnini's Oscar winning hit of a couple of years ago, Life is Beautiful, Train of Life takes a very different approach to the Holocaust and one with which, for its apparent levity, not everyone will be pleased. However, whilst at least personally I found the former annoyingly silly, this film is not only more finely conceived, but in taking a more radically non-realistic approach, almost like a musical in parts, it pre-empts any comparison to actual events. Referred to in the publicity as a fable, it is more like a dream, a wishful recreation of the past, for there is no moral to the story as such. This quality is an excuse for glossing over an unlikely set of events. In fact what makes most films about this subject so ponderous is that they feel obliged to show the brutality of it all in a plausibly realistic way. Train of Life, however, in acknowledging itself as fiction (one can almost see the text lying behind it), and thus immune from such obligations, is a rare gem in a very cluttered genre.

The film celebrates Yiddish orthodoxy at the same time as it pokes fun at it, and is both affecting in depicting the beauty and integrity of that faith and culture whilst also have a (perhaps too predictable) chortle at its “Oi vey” mannerisms. The funniest scenes are provided by the actor Rufus who, as Mordechai, has been selected to play the Nazi in command of the fake deportation. Determined to take his role seriously he begins to act increasingly like a Nazi – an opportunity for some clever parodying of the self-styled Ubermensch. Much humour is also derived from a sub-plot involving raising of the political consciousness of the Rabbi’s son.

The film-makers have done a good job with few material resources. The downside is that it is all laid on rather thickly. There’s a surfeit of the benign, snowy-haired Rabbi, the pretty girl (an Emmanuelle Bťart look-alike named Agatha de la Fontaine) too pretty (and her sexual adventurings completely gratuitous) and scenes tend to repeat themselves in variations, much as the train itself tracks back and forth without getting very far.

Notwithstanding, this is an intelligently entertaining and pleasantly genial film.

 

 

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