Defiance (US, 2008)

Hollywood comes to Belarus

Hollywood comes to Belarus

This is little-known World War II territory, a true story of Jewish resistance, in what’s now Belarus. And although its leads are obviously recognisable, the tone of the first part of the film is muted using mostly blue filters (or is the look added post-production?) to give a suitably gloomy vision. Also the heroes act with vengeance: the Bielski brothers’ father is killed by the police, collaborating with the Nazis, however his death is offscreen; Tuvia’s revenge, killing the perpetrator and his two sons, takes place over their dinner table and in cold blood.

The difficulties in having leadership thrust upon Tuvia, and its attendant moral responsiblities, is also dealt with interestingly but then the focus shifts to the rivalry between the brothers and descends into Hollywood cliche in a schmaltzy climax. While I don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong with ‘cliche’, or generic tropes, there appearance in a film, that is in fact independently produced, which has been offering a strong variant on the war movie is jarring to say the least.

There are some, as you would expect from Zwick, great visual set pieces (the mass migration through marshes; the beautiful wedding in softly falling snow) but I didn’t find either of the leads particularly convincing.

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