There’s a chintzy silver lining tacked onto every potentially dark cloud in the cloying French World War II drama A Bag of Marbles, a pseudo-inspiring adaptation of Jewish World War II survivor Joseph Joffo’s partly fictionalized memoir.
Director Christian Duguay (The Art of War, Scanners III: The Takeover) and his four credited co-writers inadvertently trivialize the horror of the Holocaust by constantly surrounding naive French preteen Joseph (Dorian Le Clech) with well-intentioned bystanders and relatives during his two-year cross-country flight from occupying Nazi soldiers.
Viewers consequently never have to wait long before Duguay and his colleagues reassure us that we can trust even sketchy-looking supporting characters like Dr. Rosen (Christian Clavier), an unexpectedly warm Nazi collaborator. Even unshaven, leering bicyclist Raymond (Michaël Erpelding) — a mercenary tour “guide” who only helps Joseph and his older brother Maurice (Batyste Fleurial) cross into France’s southern, relatively neutral “Free Zone” in exchange for 2,000 francs (adjusting for inflation: about $450 today) — inevitably proves to be reliable.
Duguay and the gang also unconvincingly try to sand the edges off of macho authority figures like Joseph’s stern dad, Roman (Patrick Bruel). The tough-loving patriarch showers Joseph with kisses and kind words — “I’m so proud of you, baby. I’ll always be here. Always here in your heart. Always.” That comes shortly after he teaches everyone in his family the importance of hiding their Jewish identities by repeatedly slapping Joseph and yelling, “Are you Jewish?” In real life, Joseph may have made soothing lemonade out of traumatically sour lemons. But this fictionalization just adds sugar.
A Bag of Marbles
Directed by Christian Duguay
Opens March 23, Landmark 57
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