Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler (2009) (not really a review but a recomendation)

I watched a DVD of the made for TV movie The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler a couple of nights ago. It was never screened on TV here in New Zealand and it there was only one copy of it at our local video store, hidden amidst the more popular blockbuster new releases. What originally attracted me to it was New Zealand born Actress Anna Panquin who has the star role of Irena Sendler. But when i read the blurb on the back I just had to take it home and watch it... despite the fact that the DVD was produced by Hallmark and I thought 'Oh no not just another hall mark moment.

The film beautifully crafted by director John Harrison tells the story of Irena Sendler who during the second world war was responsible for smuggling 2500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto and hiding them with Polish families. Irena's story is one of compassion and courage and the highest ideals of humanity in the face of the worst inhumanity. It was inspirational to see this long forgotten story of such heroism.

The Director and Anna Panquin managed to capture something of the ordinariness of Irena as a Catholic social worker in war time Warsaw who say injustice and saw that something needed to be done and in the film the extraordinary actions she takes are not played down, but they again come across with a sense that this is the sort of thing that ordinary human beings should do in the face of injustice and tyranny, there is no super human super hero ascetics here. In fact that is important as it is an act of mercy in the face of the horrendous shadow of the myth of the super human ayran race.

It was important also to have a voice for the stories of women and children and so see a story not told from the perspective of men. In an interview on the Movie Panquin says that this is the sort of role model that young women need to have placed before them. The film does not shy away from some of the issues and problems faced by Panquin, the concern that Jewish children would be forced to convert to Catholicism, the collusion of the polish people with the de-humanisation of the Jews. It also pays homage to the mothers of Jewish Children and polish women who were willing to go to such lengths to see these children saved from the holocaust. I have to admit to crying bucketfuls in the scenes so beautifully crafted where Jewish mothers had to make hard decisions about what to do with their children and the amazing scenes of courageous women opening their arms and their homes to those children. the symmetry of open arms having children wrenched from them and open arms welcoming them was very effective.

The film was an adaptation of a play 'life in a jar' produced by four high school students as part of a history project in 1999. Irena's story was  known in Poland and Israel where she has been greatly honoured but unknown to the rest of the world. These four young women who produced this play (which still travels round the US) are to be thanked for allowing us to hear this story and know of Irena Sendler's courageous heart.

It is a shame that such movies (even though they are made for TV) do not receive the recognition and promotion that they deserve... inspiration not just entertainment.

It was great that Irena Sendler received a noble peace prize nomination in 2007 and the movie finishes with a clip of Sendler deflecting any glory from herself to invite us to remember the mothers who were willing to suffer so much for their children both in willing to give them up and also to welcome them.

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