Matej Minac's heart-wrenching "All My Loved Ones" begins with some brief BBC clips of a 1998 reunion of British stockbroker Nicholas Winton and a group of men and women who were among the nearly 700 Czech Jewish children whose lives Winton saved when he organized a series of Kindertransport trains out of Prague bound for England beginning in 1938.
Most of these Holocaust survivors never knew their savior's name until Winton's late wife found in the attic of their home a record of his Kindertransport leadership, which he chose never to discuss. Winton, now in his mid-90s, went on to serve in the British Royal Air Force, tackled the postwar refugee crisis and devoted himself to charity work, aiding children and the mentally handicapped, that he continues to this day. Minac has also made a one-hour documentary on Winton, "Nicholas Winton: The Power of Good."
Minac, a Czech filmmaker who has focused on the Jewish experience, is the son of a woman saved by Winton, and "All My Loved Ones" is a fictionalized account of her recollections. It opens in Prague in 1938, about the time when the 29-year-old Winton (Rupert Graves) is on a Central European holiday. He sees a possibility for saving Jewish children when he discovers that two European countries, Sweden and Britain, are willing to take them in. Minac has Winton arriving in Prague aboard the same train as Samuel Silberstein (Jiri Bartoska), a renowned concert violinist. Silberstein is a darkly handsome man in middle age who is a legendary lady-killer with a gambling streak.
Sam is one of five very different brothers whose elderly parents live on an impressive country estate. The central focus is on Jakub (Josef Abrham), a family doctor with a beautiful wife, Irma (Libuse Safrankova), and a grown daughter, Hedvika (Tereza Brodska). Hedvika's medical-student fiance, Robert (Andrzej Deskur), wants to immigrate to Palestine. Jakub also has a young son, David (Brano Holicek), a prime candidate for the Kindertransport program -- which his affluent family initially disdains, even as conditions for Jews in Czechoslovakia worsen daily.
The Silbersteins live a comfortable upper-bourgeois existence amid the beaux-arts luxury of their various homes and apartments. Secure in their own world and their place in Czech society, the family is dangerously slow in facing up to the increasingly grim realities that threaten to engulf it.
It is crucial when viewing "All My Loved Ones," with its fine ensemble cast and well-evoked sense of time and place, to remember that it unfolds as a recollection of David, a boy of perhaps 10 in 1938, which means that the opening sequences are exceedingly, even incredibly, idyllic, with the lives of the Silbersteins overflowing with love and laughter. But as the times darken, writer Jiri Hubac, while never losing sight of David's nostalgic perspective, deftly introduces a parallel omniscient observer's point of view, witnessing events that a boy could not possibly know about at the time. Yet even with this double vision, the graceful "All My Loved Ones" is all of a piece.
It's worth noting that in the film's earliest scenes, when a neighbor sells his palatial 19th century villa to Jakub for a song, saying he's taking off for America, Jakub is so thrilled with getting a bargain that he fails to grasp the dark implications of the transaction. The neighbor, Stein, is played by Jiri Menzel, the Oscar-winning director of the 1966 Prague Spring classic "Closely Watched Trains." The sad, kindly expression on Stein's face at Jakub's lack of comprehension of the reason for the sale subtly sets a tone of rueful compassion that reverberates throughout this film, whose meaning and impact is sadly heightened by current world events.
'All My Loved Ones'
MPAA rating: Unrated.
Times guidelines: Somber adult themes, some sex.
Josef Abrham...Jakub Silverstein
Jiri Bartoska...Sam Silverstein
Libuse Safrankova...Irma, Jakub's wife
Brano Holicek...David, Jakub's son
Rupert Graves...Nicholas Winton
A Northern Arts Entertainment release of an In Film Praha presentation, supported by Eurimages. Director Matej Minac. Producers Rudolf Biermann, Jiri Bartoska, Lyn Clinton. Executive producer Veronika Marczuk-Pazura. Cinematographer Dodo Simoncic. Editor Patrik Pass. Music Janusz Stoklosa. Costumes Jarmila Konecna. Art director Martin Kurel. In Czech, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.
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