Wednesday, May 08, 2013

No Place on Earth

Following businesses on Twitter or Facebook can be kind of silly - it's voluntarily requesting more advertising on a screen that can be quite cluttered with it - and Landmark Kendall Square's feeds can often contain a lot of filler like "Mondays!" or "what did you see this weekend?" whose purpose is mainly to just make sure you don't forget about them. Still, the posting on Monday or Tuesday that says which movies will be leaving on Thursday (and which screenings will be skipped for previews or other special events, because some will be) are worth rolling your eyes at the silly ones for. It's a fairly essential part of planning my moviegoing week, since there's no excuse these things will pop up elsewhere or I'll remember them when they hit disc or streaming.

Or writing, obviously, since I'd like to recommend this one before it leaves town. I don't know how completely gone it will be - the subject matter makes it fairly likely to show up in one of the Coolidge's small rooms or hang around for a screening or two daily in West Newton, as those places do know their local audiences - but room's got to be made for Gatsby this weekend.

Aside - the Kendall screening things at 7:25pm is more or less perfect for me. Just enough time to get there from Burlington without running, worrying about the T running late, or hanging around for a half-hour. If they could start more movies then, I'd be really grateful.

No Place on Earth

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 7 May 2013 in Landmark Kendall Square #5 (first-run, 2K DCP)

There's enough staged footage with actors in No Place on Earth that one almost wonders why director Janet Tobias didn't just present this story of a Jewish family hiding from the Nazis in caves for the better part of two years as a conventional narrative feature, or at least figures somebody will, eventually. It's not a particularly hard question to answer, though - it is, after all, a great joy to see these survivors (in every sense of the word) telling their own story.

The Ukraine/Poland border was one of the most dangerous places to be a Jew during World War II, and that Esther Stermer saw the storm clouds coming and made arrangements to get her family on a ship made no difference when the Nazis arrived earlier than expected. Like many, the Stermers fled into the woods, and eventually into a cave. Most of the family his in there while eldest son Nissel kept watch outside, and when discovered, they eventually took refuge in another, deeper cavern, where they and four other extended families would stay from 5 May 1943 until 12 April 1944, when the Russians re-took the area.

The audience isn't introduced to the survivors right away, though - the first voice we hear comes from Chris Nicola, an investigator for the state of New York and avid spelunker who found evidence of twentieth-century habitation in the Priest's Grotto cave in 1993 while on a trip to Ukraine to learn more about his own ancestry (his family were Ukranian Orthodox Christians) and spent the next decade chasing stories. It might seem like an unnecessary distraction from the main story, but it's not: Nicola's expertise gives the audience some idea of how dangerous and unusual this achievement is while also sharing the audience's wonder and setting up how this story became something that had to be rediscovered.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

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