Fugitive Pieces (Canada/Greece, 2007)
Fugitive Pieces was accorded the honor of opening the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, and it became the latest in a long line of Opening Night movies to have trouble securing a distributor. After an eight month interval after its World Premiere, the movie is being given a small U.S. Distribution by Samuel Goldwyn Films. What was worth missing in Toronto is worth missing at a local art house. In a word, Fugitive Pieces can be described as “forgettable.” The film has lofty goals, but comes across as leaden and pretentious. It’s a character study in which the lead participant is the least interesting person in the movie. There’s something inherently frustrating and unsatisfying about that. As a viewer, you want to become involved in this man’s life but the film never takes you to a point where that’s possible. This is a fatal flaw.
Fugitive Pieces spans a period of roughly 35 years, beginning in 1942 and concluding the late 1970s. At the outset, Jacob (Robbie Kay) is a young Jew in Poland forced to watch from hiding as his mother and father are killed and his sister is captured during a raid. He is eventually saved by the Greek Athos (Rade Sherbedgia), in whose care he begins to re-connect with the human race - although he cannot keep the nightmares at bay. Eventually, the pair moves to Canada where Athos begins writing a book called Bearing False Witness: History and Memory while Jacob (now played by Stephen Dillane) pursues a degree. Eventually, after Athos’s death, Jacob enters into a marriage with the vivacious Alex (Rosamund Pike), hoping that she will provide him with the spark he needs to find happiness. But his obsession with the past threatens their union. As Alex remarks after reading his diary: “To live with ghosts requires solitude.”
Told in a strictly linear fashion, Fugitive Pieces might be so dry and ponderous as to be unwatchable. Fortunately, Podeswa (The Five Senses), adapting from the novel by Anne Michaels, varies the chronology by nesting flashbacks within flashbacks. We never spend more than a few consecutive scenes in any one time period. The title informs the storytelling style - the intent is for all the pieces to eventually come together to form a narrative and emotional whole. To an extent, that is what happens. It’s just that the “whole” isn’t compelling. There have been numerous powerful motion pictures about Holocaust survivors and how their traumatic experiences have shaped their lives. This is not one of them.
The film boasts a pair of strong performances, both in supporting roles. Rade Sherbedgia, as Athos, is effective, although his part - that of the gruff, lonely old man who devotes his later years to raising a boy - is a cliché. And, although she’s not in the movie for many scenes, Rosamund Pike (who played Jane in the most recent theatrical version of Pride and Prejudice) adds life and spark to an otherwise somber production. Unfortunately, lead actor Stephen Dillane is unremarkable. While there’s no question that Jacob is supposed to be emotionally wounded and in search of wholeness, Dillane provides a flat portrayal that dooms Jacob to seeming two-dimensionality. Only at the very end is there any sense of resonance.
Fugitive Pieces (Canada/Greece, 2007)
Cast: Stephen Dillane, Rade Serbedzija, Rosamund Pike, Ayelet Zurer, Robbie Kay, Ed Stoppard
Screenplay: Jeremy Podeswa, based on the novel by Anne Michaels
Cinematography: Gregory Middleton
Music: Nikos Kypourgos
U.S. Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
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