If your heart must pound and grow heavy at the same time, then rise and be glad again, then see Defiance. Written and directed by Edward Zwick, this tells a rare and more than passingly honest tale of resistance and hardship in Nazi-occupied territory on the Eastern front. Adding in excellent performances by Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and a shifting but memorable supporting cast, this is a rare gem worth seeing.
The occupation of Soviet territory by the Germans during World War II has gotten scarce attention from Hollywood, and no doubt this is due in part to the cold war. However, in Defiance (get the Theatrical Release here) we get a peek into both the resistance by the Soviet Army and partisans in general, and also into the Bielski Brothers and their effort to save Jews from the ghettoes and mass slaughters imposed by Nazi troops.
Operating in the borderlands area of the Second Polish Republic and Belarus, the Bielski brothers made their escape from a German attack on their home town and proceeded into the forest. Tuvia, a former Polish soldier, saw the war as simply another hardship on Jews.
“I would rather save one old Jewish woman than kill ten German soldiers,” he is heard to say.
His brother Zus, however, is interested in revenge. They will part ways for a time as the local resistance partisans of the Red Army exact a toll on the Bielski movement in the form of men and support. But as the movement itself grows and its camp swells, it becomes a target of German and local police raids, and a price is put on Tuvia’s head.
The plight of the people in Tuvia’s charge is played out against a backdrop of uneasy work for Zus among the antisemitic but desparate partisans. Jews flee to the camp from ghettoes and raids aeround the country. Life is harsh, but as time progresses, a community forms and survives. The crescendo of the movie reveals much of these beginnings.
The movie will uplift but depress a viewer, but the gestalt is a wonderful, action-peppered drama with historical novelty, even if its contents are already debate on bulletin boards and web sites around the world. A worthy watch.