FUGITIVE PIECES Directed by Jeremy Podeswa, written by Podeswa from Anne Michaels’s novel, with Stephen Dillane, Rade Serbedzija, Ayelet Zurer and Rosamund Pike. 106 minutes. A Maximum Films release. Opens Friday (May 2). For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NNNNN
World War II has been depicted on film so often that saying something new about it might feel like an insurmountable challenge. Canadian director Jeremy Podeswa never expected to put it on screen, in spite of a personal connection to the topic.
Like Jakob Beer, the hero of Anne Michaels’s novel, Fugitive Pieces, Podeswa’s father is Polish and survived the war.
“I never really thought I was going to touch that subject matter before I read this book,” Podeswa says. “But this was a way into the story that I could actually imagine doing cinematically.”
His other thought was that, as a young, relatively inexperienced filmmaker, he’d never get the chance. But after directing two feature films and many TV shows, including Six Feet Under and Carnivàle, Podeswa sold himself to the producers.
Now he’s sitting by a noisy elevator bank in his hotel, talking about how he eventually did get that chance. It’s the first day of the Toronto Film Festival, and his film will kick it off as the opening gala tonight.
Podeswa was moved by the book’s beauty, but it was its unusual perspective on the war that hooked him.
“One important thing for me was that the book didn’t have any of the conventional iconography of the war,” he says.
“There are no concentration camps. You don’t see many Nazis. That was a kind of gift, not to have to depict things that are almost unfilmable.”
It’s true that while the story begins in the familiar landscape of war-torn Eastern Europe, it quickly takes a different turn. In hiding after his family is murdered by the Nazis, young Jakob (Robbie Kay) is literally dug up by a Greek archaeologist (Rade Serbedzija) during an expedition in Poland. He spends the remainder of the war in Greece before emigrating to Canada.
Podeswa says his father didn’t talk about the war much – “but of course it informed everything.” It informs everything in Jakob’s life as well, sometimes to the detriment of his personal relationships. The adult Jakob (Stephen Dillane) can’t stop reading, writing or talking about the Holocaust, eventually driving away his young wife (Rosamund Pike).
Ultimately, Jakob’s sadness might have been too much for audiences to bear as well. The version opening tomorrow is four minutes shorter than the cut screened at TIFF.
To go into detail would be to spoil the ending; suffice it to say that the story is more open-ended than before. Michaels was involved in the decision to make the changes, Podeswa says, and he thinks the new version leaves the audience with the message he wanted to impart.
“We found that many who loved the film also found the experience of watching it incredibly despairing,” Podeswa writes in a follow-up e-mail. “That was never our intention. The film has always been about the effects of loss, and how to embrace life in spite of tragic circumstances.”
Read the review of Jeremy Podeswa's FUGITIVE PIECES here.