Saturday, May 18, 2024

“IRENA’S VOW”

THE STORY – Caught in a German roundup to be used as a slave labourer, Polish nurse Irena Gut becomes a German army major’s housekeeper during World War II. Irena risks her life to conceal a dozen Jews within the major’s home.

THE CAST – Sophie Nélisse, Dougray Scott, Andrzej Seweryn, Eliza Rycembel, Maciej Nawrocki, Aleksandar Milicevic, Tomasz Tyndyk & Nela Maciejewska

THE TEAM – Louise Archambault (Director) & Dan Gordon (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 121 Minutes


Irena Gut Opdyke is one of the honorees of the Righteous Among the Nations, which celebrates non-Jewish individuals who risked their lives to save Jewish people during World War II and, in particular, during the reign Nazi Germany. In fact, Opdyke did not share her story until 1975, after facing a Holocaust denier. What Irena did, saving the lives of twelve Jewish individuals during the Nazi German invasion of Poland is nothing short of heroic and deserves to be told to the masses. In that sense, “Irena’s Vow” is successful. But, the end result is not as remarkable as Irena’s actual measures.

Director Lousie Archambault begins the film in 1939, where a young Irena (Sophie Nélisse) is studying to be a nurse. But, over the radio, she is informed that Germany has officially invaded Poland. It is evident to Irena and the rest of her co-workers that their lives are about to change. Soon, Germany succeeds and quickly takes over Irena’s life. Her mother and sisters are no longer in their family home, now occupied by a Nazi soldier. But, before Irena has a chance to look for them, she is taken to work in a factory to build missiles for the German Army. There, an officer, Major Rugmer (Dougray Scott), notices Irena and reassigns her to be his domestic worker. It is here where she excels in looking down, being obedient, and befriending the Jewish workers she is forced to supervise.

Archambault’s decision to begin the film during Poland’s invasion is clever because it quickly puts the audience in Irena’s world. As previously displayed in 2013’s “The Book Thief,” Nélisse is a wonderful lead presence and showcases the immediate horror of losing everything in one swift motion. Even though Irena is the hero of the story, it is clear that she is also a survivor of Nazi Germany. Irena, too, was displaced and forced to work under the threat that she could lose her life at any given moment, and Archambault explicitly portrays this. The first act allows the audience to feel Irena’s fear and innate strength to survive, as showcased through Nélisse’s powerful performance.

Nélisse successfully depicts Irena’s desire to help people, as well as her innocence, which is constantly at war with each other throughout the film. Irena must quickly come of age in order to adapt to her new and dangerous environment. Additionally, she and the rest of the Polish citizens are forced to watch the cruel acts of violence by the Nazi officials. Then, she has to serve these same officials hours later. Through these mostly unspoken moments, Nélisse shows Irena’s fear turns into hatred, which only motivates her to help as much as possible. There are several moments throughout the film where she is stunned by the horrors around her but is forced to suppress her emotions for her own safety. This results in a concrete performance that proves that Nélisse is more than capable of leading a film requiring so much of her as a performer. The audience is quickly on Irena’s side and never leaves it. So, when she overhears the officers stating that the city must be “Jew Free” by the end of the month, she quickly decides to hide her Jewish co-workers in her boss’ cellar.

However, after Irena successfully moves the Jews to the cellar, “Irena’s Vow” drags. With a film that takes place over the entire war and, for the most part, in a single location, the script becomes a crucial element in ensuring whether the film will work as a whole. Unfortunately, Dan Gordon’s screenplay seems to be highlighting factual events that took place and does not allow these scenes to deepen the characters further. This is a shame, especially due to the film’s strong first act. The second half of the film consists of a lot of bland dialogue and half-baked scenes of characters simply going through the motions until the war ends. There are some interesting conversations, like when a married couple that Irena is hiding becomes pregnant and decides what ought to be done. But these are few and far between.

Unfortunately, “Irena’s Vow” gives its subject matter average treatment. Though it successfully showcases Irena’s act of bravery, it quickly loses steam and becomes an overdramatic film, which is a shame, considering how great Nélisse is in the title role. “Irena’s Vow” may seem like a decent introductory piece into Irena Gut Opdyke and may even find a home in high school classrooms. But, on its own, it is another overlong historical film only supported by its female lead.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - A strong leading performance that carries the film throughout. The first act showcases the horrors all Polish citizens felt during the Nazi invasion.

THE BAD - There is little character development as everyone goes through years of the war with little change. With a majority of the characters confined to one space, the pacing becomes bland very fast.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 5/10

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Lauren LaMagna
Lauren LaMagnahttps://nextbestpicture.com
Assistant arts editor at Daily Collegian. Film & TV copy editor.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>A strong leading performance that carries the film throughout. The first act showcases the horrors all Polish citizens felt during the Nazi invasion.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>There is little character development as everyone goes through years of the war with little change. With a majority of the characters confined to one space, the pacing becomes bland very fast.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None</a><br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>5/10<br><br>"IRENA'S VOW"