February 1, 2009 -- “Defiance” is a film depicting the exploits of a little-known group called the Bielski Partisans, who sought refuge in the Naliboki Forest in the area of Navahrudak and Lida of present day Belarus during the German invasion of that area in World War II. The four Bielski brothers not only fought alongside Soviet partisans against the Germans (one of them fought in the Soviet army), but also sheltered up to 1,200 Jews who were being hunted by the occupying German Army. When they link up with Soviet partisans, the Soviet leader scoffs, “Jews don't fight,” he says. “These Jews do,” came the defiant response from Zus Bielski.
The partisans lived in camps in the forest, moving when their location was discovered by the enemy. At times, the camps became fairly complex, complete with bomb-resistant dugouts called zemlyankas, a kitchen, mill, bakery, bathhouse, medical clinic, metal shop, a tannery, a school and sewing operations at times. The film follows the four Bielski brothers, primarily the oldest, Tuvia (played by Daniel Craig of the Bond films) and Alexander Zisel “Zus” Bielski (Liev Shreiber of “The Sum of All Fears”). Tuvia wants to save as many Jews as possible, regardless of their ability to fight, while Zus wants to lead a small group of mostly fighters in raids against the Germans.
These differences eventually lead to a violent falling out between the two would-be leaders. Zus takes his warriors and joins the Soviet partisans, while Tuvia stays with his group of refugees. The conflict between the two men plays out through the length of the movie. The film explores social differences between the various refugees and the leveling effect of their situation. It also explores tensions between the Soviet partisans and the Bielski Partisans. The film also explores romantic relationships among the partisans. The film doesn't explore the community structure of the refugees in any depth. It doesn't give any background on the characters before the war and it only gives a brief look at what happened to these people after the war. As a tale about the resilience of the human spirit and the will to survive, it is powerful.
The acting is quite good by this talented cast. The forest and battle scenes are well designed and staged. The film does a good job of exploring the moral dilemmas encountered by the leaders of the Bielski partisans. It also touches upon the anti-semitism among the Soviet troops. It is also evident from the film that the Bielski partisans could not have survived without significant help from the local residents who lived near the forest. The film also explores the crisis of faith faced by many Jews during that terrible time in history. This film rates a B.
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