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WAITING FOR ANYA (2020) review

February 8, 2020



written by: Michael Morpurgo (novel), Toby Torlesse and Ben Cookson (screenplay)
produced by: Phin Glynn and Alan Latham
directed by: Ben Cookson
rated: NR (Content equivalent of PG-13)
runtime: 109 min.
U.S. release date: February 7, 2020


“What did you see in the barn?”


Schmaltz is hardly a novel concept in cinematic attempts to soften the harder edges of World War II, everything from “Life is Beautiful” to Jerry Lewis’ infamously un-released “The Day the Clown Cried” positively trafficked in schmaltz. Even last year’s “Jojo Rabbit,” which was about 2/3 of a great movie, couldn’t escape schmaltz in its final scene. It’s the best way filmmakers have found to deal with such unfathomably inhuman deeds, and it works best when doled out in carefully measured doses.

Coming hot on the heels of Taika Waititi’s scathing satire is the much more earnest “Waiting for Anya,” set as far away as it can be, geographically, from that film. On the southern border of Nazi-occupied France with Spain, Jo (Noah Schnapp) is a young shepherd working with his grandfather (Jean Reno) along the Pyrenees. The teenager stumbles into a whole new world when he begins helping his neighbor, the widow Horcada (Angelica Huston), smuggle Jewish children across the mountains into Spain.


House Lightroom Exercise 1


Two men begin competing for Jo’s attention, one is a Jewish man named Benjamin (Frederick Schmidt), who captures the boy’s sense of right. Horcada has been hiding Benjamin in her barn, providing him shelter until the return of his young daughter Anya, from whom he was separated during an escape. The other, and much more troubling adult male competing for Jo’s attention is a sympathetic Nazi officer (Thomas Kretschmann).

The film, and likely the book it’s based on, paint him as a contrast to the cartoonishly villainous Nazi Lieutenant played by Tómas Lemarquis, who has a corner on this sort of market now. The truly troubling thing about this subplot of the “nice” Nazi officer is its harmless intention. It’s attempting to say, in the most naïve of ways, that there were probably some decent guys who also happened to be Nazis. I’m not sure this is the right time for that particular sentiment, but it’s hard to hold it against an effort as earnest as this.

No one could doubt the sincerity of all involved, but earnestness does not automatically equal success. The film is achingly sincere and everyone’s heart seems to be in the right place, but that’s about as close as it comes to being truly great. The schmaltz and misguidedness of some of the film’s many messages linger long after it’s over, however, and not the good intentions of the filmmakers. Those have long since evaporated.

The film’s conclusion, while bittersweet, feels completely foregone from minute one. This isn’t “Waiting for Godot” where the title is elliptical in its meaning. Here, it’s literal, and you know where the film is headed because it’s that kind of movie. Which is fine, if that’s what you’re in the mood for. If you’ve seen this kind of film a hundred times already, however, there are likely much better ways to spend your time.








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