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INTO THE ARMS OF STRANGERS

SYNOPSIS:
In the years leading up to the Second World War, with Nazi persecution of the Jews increasing, many Jewish parents in Germany and Austria sought to send their children out of the country. In 1938 around 10,000 German-Jewish children were packed into trains and boats - known as the Kindertransport - and sent to an uncertain future in Britain, leaving their parents behind. Many years later, some of the children who were sent away - and some still-living members of an older generation - reflect on the Kindertransport and its mixed legacy.

"It's pointless to review a film like this as if it were primarily meant as art or entertainment. The subject-matter is significant, but the documentary format is very ordinary: a mixture of archival footage, still photos and 'talking heads.' There's not all that much historical analysis, though some interesting points are made (the sidelights on Britain's often callous treatment of refugees ought to strike a chord with Australian viewers). The main emphasis is on personal testimony from now greying German Jews, childhood victims of Nazi persecution, who were sent away to Britain on the Kindertransports. Wisely, the film restricts itself to a handful of interviewees, giving them the time and space to come across as individuals: in general they seem like wary, dignified people who've somehow managed to get through the rest of their lives, and who are now able to stand back and describe their long-ago anguish with wry grace and even humour. Over the last fifty years, you feel, they must have told these same stories over and over again, shaping them into family legends to be passed down the generations, cultivating a necessary distance from the suffering children they once were. 'It must have been someone else,' one man says about his experiences. 'It couldn't have been me.' Inevitably, though, they're still brooding about the meaning of the horrors they went through - why they were spared when others weren't: several talk about the sustaining power of prayer, or a mysterious feeling that God somehow meant them to survive. Beyond the facts it provides, the film functions at moments as something close to a religious ceremony - providing a formal occasion for thanksgiving, mourning and remembrance."
Jake Wilson

"Into the Arms of Strangers is a most comprehensive documentary and a valuable historical document. Weaving archival film footage, photographs, original letters and present-day interviews with survivors, parents, foster parents and rescuers; the film constructs a thorough account of the ‘Kindertransport’ operation. Documentary-maker Mark Jonathan Harris pitches us a moral dilemma, that is, in a situation of profound uncertainty, would you keep your children close or send them to the unknown, both in the hope of saving them? With intelligent editing he contrasts the alternative fates of the survivors interviewed in a way that is deeply emotive and entirely non-judgmental. A survivor of Auschwitz, Lory Cahn talks candidly of her devastation when her father pulled her from the window of a moving train, as it began its journey to safety, an act she only began to comprehend when she became a mother herself. Her story is juxtaposed with that of Kurt Fuchel, who lived with a family in England from age 6 to 16. Fuchel tells of his trepidation at being separated from his foster parents, whom he had grown to love, and united with his real parents, who had, in turn, become strangers. What prevails in all of the survivors is an underlying sense of the positive. Lore Segal, now a writer, rationalises her stay in numerous homes as a gift from which she has been able to draw upon in her writing. It is humbling to hear her attest to a fundamental goodness in humanity, that despite all her foster families not particularly liking her they all had the grace to help a child. Another woman draws parallels between her experience and other human rights violations against the backdrop of a photograph of her rallying in aid of Haitian refugees. The film is fiercely moving, yet with a restrained approach the filmmakers do not unnecessarily manipulate the viewer’s emotions. By giving a dignified voice to each one of these small stories the enormity of the Holocaust is conveyed." Angie Fox

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

INTO THE ARMS OF STRANGERS(PG)
(UK/US)

Full title: Into the Arms of Strangers: stories of the Kindertransport

CAST: Judi Dench, Kurt Fuchel, Alexander Gordon, Lore Segal, Norbert Wollheim

DIRECTOR/WRITER: Mark Jonathon Harris

PRODUCER: Deborah Oppenheimer

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Don Lenzer

EDITOR: Kate Amend

MUSIC: Lee Holdridge

RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 23, 2000







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