Run Boy Run: a race for life
by Dorota Hartwich
- Currently in theatres in Poland, the film by Pepe Danquart tells the survival story of an eight-year-old Jewish boy during the Second World War
"Don’t trust anyone, by careful, go! If not, we will both die!”, shouts his father to Yoram Friedman, 8 years old, just after their escape from the Warsaw ghetto. The boy witnesses his father’s death, shot by a Nazi, and then takes refuge in a forest where he will wander to survive the tragedy of the Holocaust.
The same Yoram Friedman came especially from Israel to visit Poland and attend the release of the film that tells his personal story and takes him back 70 years: Run Boy Run [+see also:
film profile] by Pepe Danquart.
As soon as he enters the forest, the life of the young boy (who is first called Srulik in the film, a Jewish name that he must change for Jurek, which sounds more Polish) is transformed into a permanent escape filled with fear. Terrified, he starts to adapt to the darkness and savagery of the forest and fields. He learns to eat insects, catch fish with his bare hands in ponds, hunt ducks, and steal hens from farms…
Always alone, he only fleetingly meets a group of Jewish children hiding like him in the forest, but they are scattered by German soldiers. A key moment is his encounter with a Polish woman who hides the young boy in her home and who, to save his life, invents a new identity for him, giving him a new story and name, and teaches him Catholic prayers. In the film’s epilogue, the spectator can see Yoram Friedman (75 years old) on a beach in Israel, playing with his grandchildren.
Run Boy Run is based on Uri Orlev’s bestseller, which was translated in 15 languages. Born in Warsaw under the name Jerzy Henryk Orlowski, the author also lived through the Holocaust, the Warsaw ghetto and the Bergen-Belsen camp, before immigrating, in 1945, through Belgium, to Palestine. Currently, Orlev lives in Jerusalem. He has written more than 30 books and won the Hans Christian Andersen Prize, often dubbed the “small Nobel”.
Like the author, the director of Run Boy Run is mostly targeting a young audience and for this reason, the critics’ reproaches regarding the aesthetic overload of his film seem inappropriate. It is true that at times we watch Pepe Danquart’s feature like an adventure tale, but it is also true that younger audiences don’t understand as well the subject of the Holocaust and don’t feel emotions the way adults with a historical knowledge do. What matters is that the spectator can identify with the character. Finally, what is also crucially important is that the truth was not distorted in any way, neither by shameless didacticism, generalizations, nor a pathos filled tone, which could easily have happened in this context. The story and human behaviours are complex (those of the Polish people, the Germans and the Jews) and younger audiences can sense this because the director avoided clichés.
Run Boy Run is distributed in Poland by Kino Swiat.
(Translated from French)