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A Poignant Holocaust Tale in ‘Remember’

TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

The past inevitably overlaps the present, sometimes excruciatingly.

Max Eisenberg learned that as a teenager, his experience as the son of Jewish Holocaust survivors becoming the basis for “A Call to Remember,” the poignant, emotional, tender ache of a movie he has written for airing on the Starz! and Encore cable channels.

Set in the late 1960s against the background of a burgeoning Vietnam War, “A Call to Remember” is much less a traditional Holocaust tome than a rewarding one about deep scars and an odyssey of healing that extends even to the postwar families of survivors.

The Vietnam period is unfortunately muted here, offering little sense of the political and social thunder that rumbled through these years. However, this deficiency and the plot’s basic predictability (it can go only one direction) are overshadowed by lovely performances, well-written characters who have depth and the intensity of a remembrance that executive producer Jack Bender, a childhood friend of Eisenberg, directs sensitively.

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Years after losing their families and previous spouses in Nazi death camps, Paula and David Tobias (Blythe Danner and Joe Mantegna) are now in the United States, a married couple running a small business while rearing two sons, Ben, 12 (Kevin Zegers), and Jake, 18 (David Lascher). The former is preparing for his bar mitzvah, the latter hoping to flee his overprotective parents and, especially, his mother’s smothering love.

Jake complains to his girlfriend: “She breathes my air first to make sure it’s OK for me.” He also resists his mother’s plan for a psychiatrist to write a letter precluding him from serving in Vietnam.

Things pivot dramatically and lives are altered when Paula hears from a refugee center that a son she thought had been slaughtered by Nazis during the war is actually alive and due to arrive in New York. Her trip there to greet “my Alec” becomes pivotal.

“A Call to Remember” is a small, quiet, yet heroic film whose wallop is strong and deeply felt, in large part because of Danner’s thoughtful, subtly potent work as Paula, who is never more memorable than when trying to punish herself out of guilt for surviving the wartime massacre that erased her earlier family.

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The rest of the cast also performs ably, especially Lascher as Jake, making his mark in a story of complexity that lingers hauntingly in your thoughts.

* “A Call to Remember” airs at 8 tonight on the Starz! cable channel and again at 9 p.m. Sunday on the Encore cable channel. It has been rated TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17).


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