Defiance film review
Defiance is a triumphant movie based on a true story of Jewish people who decided to stand up and fight back, refusing to be victimized during the time of the Holocaust. Director, Edward Zwick has stated that a big contribution to his pride in making the film is the fact that the stories of such fighters have often gone untold in the media until now.
Set in 1941 through approximately 1944, the film chronicles the lives of four brothers. The eldest brother is the character that stars in the film. The character is Tuvia Bielski, played by Daniel Craig. The second eldest brother, Zus played by Liev Schreiber also shines. Tuvia and Zus also have two younger brothers, Asael (Jamie Bell) and Aron (George MacKay) whose characters have more minor roles in the film.
The story begins with the murder of the Bielski brothers' parents. The brothers grieve and mourn all the while knowing that they are also in grave danger. They decide to hide in the woods in Belarus. (For the film, land in Lithuania was used instead.)
The brothers are actually very familiar with the forest because they grew up very close to there and used to play in the forest as children.
Because they are so used to being in the forest, the brothers are able to be very resourceful for surviving in the elements by building shelter for example. Tuvia takes the lead for keeping his brothers safe and out of harm's way.
Before long, Tuvia becomes well known and respected by many who are on a similar plight for safety. There are others who have taken to the woods unsure of what to do next and soon they are looking toward Tuvia for leadership.
The numbers of people grow overwhelmingly and indeed someone must take the lead to prevent the chaos of all.
Soon Tuvia is sitting atop his horse telling others what to do and by this, the group becomes productive and sustainable. One of the members of the group who considers himself an intellectual poses the idea of community to Tuvia and indeed the group is fast becoming a community.
The 'intellectuals' seem to have difficulty using hammers and building shelters but soon enough they get the hang of it. Everyone is asked what their profession was before they found themselves in these circumstances, in order to see how they can be useful to the group as a whole.
A nurse is told that she is 'most welcome' as a part of the group while an accountant is laughed upon in a cynical way.
Many of the people comment that if they had not run into the forest to become a part of this community, if they had remained in the ghetto, they would have been dead by now.
Initially, the women are told that they will get protection from the men but soon this changes and the women are expected to train for fighting and fight alongside the men. They also take turns with 'food missions', where they go out beyond the forest in search of food even if it means having to steal from farmers. The decided code of conduct is to take only from those who have enough to spare.
The community adjusts to the conditions but not without incident. There are some times of desperation when food is scarce especially in the winter months.
The audience might find this film hard to stomach as it is very violent but such were the times. The question is often posed, do you too have to become a tyrant in order to overcome those who victimize you? Do you have to become just as horrible as they are?
Because they have been so traumatized, their survival strategies do some times cross the boundary into revenge for the actions for their tormentors. There are indeed some unnecessary acts of violence on the part of the Beilski partisans.
The members of the group are constantly hunted and have to relocate and in turn re-build a few times. They overcome great adversity to keep going and survive. In one scene where they are being chased and need to relocate deeper into the forest, they are surprised to find that they need to cross a large body of water, everyone including the old and sick. They are about to give up but again pull their thoughts together and become resourceful. The third eldest (second youngest) brother, Asael is especially instrumental in the plan.
By this time, Zus the second brother has disbanded from the group because he resents Tuvia as its leader. Even in these dire circumstances, there is sibling rivalry. Zus finds allies with the Russian army and joins them. He does not stay long when he senses corruption and antisemitism and he eventually reunites with Tuvia and the group.
I highly recommend this film and if you should decide to rent it, be sure to take a look at the bonus special features on the DVD. There, you will see portraits of the actual survivors on whom the film is based and you will see interviews with descendents of the Bielski family.
You will really realize the magnitude and be even further touched by what is depicted in the film. As word spread and the group grew larger by many people escaping to the forest and as they stayed the course and overcame the challenges and the danger, they were able to survive in the forest until the war's end! It was over 1,000 people in all and now, generations later, their children and grandchildren number over 10,000. As many of the family pose for a large group portrait in the special features section of the DVD, you hear the words, "We were not supposed to be here." It is a very gripping sentiment as you think about the heroism of their ancestors.
The background violinist music is reminiscent of the soundtracks for Holocaust related movies such as Schindler's List but this is a very different film. Only recently with films like Defiance and Valkyrie are we seeing the stories of those who fought back against the plan of genocide or attempted preemptive attacks on Hitler and/or the Nazi tormentors.
I think Defiance is an excellent film. I rate it 4/5 stars, especially for its insight and historical value.
Rated R for language and violence