All My Loved Ones (Vsichni moji blízcí) (1999)
Sam: Why are you doing it, Mr. Winton?
Winton: Because there is a need.
- Jiri Bartoska, Rupert Graves
Stars: Rupert Graves, Jiri Bartoska, Josef Abrham
Other Stars: Brano Holicek, Lucia Culkova
Director: Matej Minac
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, sexuality, brief nudity)
Run Time: 01h:34m:36s
Release Date: 2004-01-13
DVD ReviewOskar Schindler was not the only hero of the Holocaust. As The Diary of Anne Frank can attest, many individuals put their lives on the line to protect and shelter those being hunted and exterminated by Hitler's Third Reich. One unsung individual was Nicholas Winton, a British businessman who saved over 10,000 Jewish children from Austria, Germany, and where the film takes place, Czechoslovakia. As Hitler's forces moved in, thousands of children were sent away via train to live with families they had never met. Most never saw their loved ones again. Documentaries, such as Into the Arms of Strangers, have investigated the kindertransports. However, Czech director Matej Minac has decided not to focus on this aspect, choosing to develop the plot around the family and culture that existed before Hitler arrived.
Before the breakout of WWII, life was comfortable for the Silberstiens. Jakub (Josef Abrham), a successful doctor, his wife, and their son David (Brano Holicek) are becoming accustomed to their new villa. Some of their friends, sensing the coming storm, have already left, but Jakub (Josef Abrham) is either unaware of the dangers ahead, or simply refuses to believe they are real. How could one man be so mad as to exterminate an entire race? This concept is incomprehensible to him, and therefore, unreasonable for anyone to undertake. Jakub's home is frequented by other family members, including an eccentric circus performer, David's closest friend Sosha (Lucia Culkova), and Jakub's brother, Sam (Jiri Bartoska), who is an accomplished violinist. When the Nazis approach and life for Prague's Jewish population rapidly deteriorates, Jakub realizes the danger is very real. Sam, while playing at a charity event hosted by Nicholas Winton, hears of the Englishman's efforts with the many kindertransports that have saved thousands of lives. Sam hopes Jakub will let David flee to Britain, but Jakub is reluctant. His denial of the situation begins to threaten the safety of his family. Only when the Germans are at their doorstep does he choose to act.
The story has many threads, developing various character arcs. The majority is dedicated to the Silberstiens, attempting to illustrate a portrait of life before Hitler. They are a family like any other, faced with relationship troubles, love, and a desire to live well. However, this direction is not well maintained. This is ultimately the film's downfall. Toward the end, the focus clearly switches to stress Winton's efforts, who suddenly pops up at a party. There is virtually no previous introduction or hint of the difficult decision ahead for the Silberstiens. This switch throws the film out of balance, which suddenly becomes a quest to get young David out. This is a missed opportunity. If the filmmakers had chosen to develop these two distinct storylines throughout the whole film, this would have been far more engaging. Not only would we have become acquainted with the family, but an ongoing depiction of Winton's efforts would have provided a sense of anticipation for what was to come, and a distinct sense of foreboding, generated by the obvious fact that the Silberstiens must let David go if he is to survive. The historical importance of his efforts seem buried beneath unnecessary character details.
Directorially, the film is somewhat unstable. There are some awkward cuts, trimming scenes uncomfortably short, and a sense of aimlessness at points. The use of color tinted newsreels at the local theater is an effective device, reminding the audience of the coming horror. Slow motion effects are occasionally used to heighten emotion, with little success. The beautiful Prague locations manage to help save the film's visuals. Thankfully, too much sentimentality, which can deaden the sheer impact of the events themselves, is not a factor.
Performances vary, most of which serve the material well. Jiri Bartoska emotes a fine sense of desperation as Sam, while his on screen brother, Josef Abram (Jakub) delivers the right mix of family pride and denial. Both of these individuals are strong men who realize too late the magnitude of the Third Reich's ambition. Rupert Graves' cameo as the courageous Nicholas Winton is the real highlight here. His presence on screen brings a sense of energy and immediacy other scenes lack, further convincing me that a well developed Winton storyline would have done wonders for this film. Other performances can be somewhat wooden, but overall, the acting does not detract from the already flawed script.
An average effort that needs some work, All My Loved Ones could have been a very good film. When a life of peace is slowly stripped away, and a family must make one of the most harrowing decisions imaginable, this film becomes a powerful testament to the tragedy of the time. The film's conclusion, which includes emotional video footage (shot in 1988) of the real Winton being reunited with many of the children he saved, is a hint of what could have been. A well developed Winton storyline through the entire picture would have provided the emotional momentum and tension the story lacked.
Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: B-
|Aspect Ratio||1.66:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Wellspring continues to disappoint. The nonanamorphic 1.66:1 transfer is poor, suffering from faded colors and an overall soft appearance, making fine details relatively nonexistent. On top of all this, the transfer appears to be a PAL to NTSC conversion, leading to noticeable motion blurring. A watchable, but distracting presentation.
Image Transfer Grade: C-
Audio Transfer Review: The audio is presented in the original Czech, in 2.0 and 5.1 mixes. The 5.1 mix suffers from unbalanced mixing and bad reverberation. Dialogue is undermixed, and strays across several front channels for no apparent reason. The ambient fill is almost too extreme, making the mix seem too surround heavy. Overall, the mix sounds quite hollow. The 2.0 mix is a fine stereo presentation, with no surround information. I'd recommend viewing with this track, since the 5.1 is so muddled, it is not worth a listen.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
8 Other Trailer(s) featuring Carnage, Count of Monte Cristo, Les Destinees, Ran, Russian Ark, Under the Sand, Yi Yi, Z
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Extras Review: Extras are sparse. A section of filmographies details the careers of two main stars, Josef Abrham and Rupert Graves. There is a photo gallery with 11 stills from the film and seven stills of the real Nicholas Winton. The film's theatrical trailer is also included. Finally, a section of weblinks and a 10% discount offer for an online art film retailer round out the special features.
Extras Grade: C-
Final CommentsDirector Matej Minac tries to tackle an important historical topic, but gets lost in the shuffle. An unbalanced structure and some less than stellar direction makes this an average film, with above average goals. There are other films on this topic that should be sought out first.
Matt Peterson 2004-02-09