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06.04.08

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Photograph by N. Nikolopoulos
family recipe: Young Jakob (Robbie Kay) and his rescuer Athos (Rade Sherbedgia) make lemonade in 'Fugitive Pieces,' opening Friday at the Nickelodeon

Emotional Rescue

Summoning the courage to mope in 'Fugitive Pieces'

By Richard von Busack


Woody Allen used to play men so perturbed by the Holocaust that they couldn't pay attention to the lively blonde girl next to them. That was tragic history repeating itself as farce. In essence, Canadian Jeremy Podeswa's new film, Fugitive Pieces, is the kind of drama Allen laughed off the screen 35 years ago. It is dismaying and a little stupefying to see it back again. Sometimes, one wonders why little clouds of dust don't fly out of the actors' mouths when they utter these lines.

Fugitive Pieces gives us a writer's fantasy of irresistibility. The film concerns the Byronic attractiveness of a morose, frail author named Jakob Beer (Stephen Dillane). In the late 1960s, the writer is scooped up by a blonde Toronto woman named Alex (Rosamund Pike). The previously flirtatious lady devotes herself to his seriousness and coaxes him into marriage. But he cannot escape from the dead hand of the past, from his memories of the German storm troopers in Poland who hauled his family away.

To free himself, Jakob must head back to the Greek island of Hydra, where he spent his youth as a refugee. There, he must pour salt and ouzo on the last resting place of the man who adopted him. The late lamented was the archaeologist Athos (played by the robust Serbian actor Rade Sherbedgia). In the flashbacks, Athos looks like Zorba the Greek with the serial numbers filed off. He nurses the boy, hiding him from the German authorities until their occupation is routed.

When the war is over, man and boy relocate to Canada, to live in a dark wood sepulcher mistakenly being rented as a flat. As a filmmaker, Podeswa's specialty is the Canadian wooden tomb, as seen in his film The Five Senses, in which the mahogany walls acted as the visual equivalent of depressing cello music.

After yet another clumsy shuffling in time. Jakob is grown, and his first novel is a success. I have misplaced my notes, but I recall the title of the book as Ashes of Dust. The triumph is capped when Alex turns up to congratulate Jakob on the accuracy of the literary portrait of herself. This woman of "shameless vitality" has been properly chastised. Sunning his haunted soul among the white-washed buildings and blue water of a Greek fishing town, Jakob eventually meets a lover cum nurse: a Jewish girl named Michaela (Ayelet Zurer, who is as misused here as she was in Munich).

Fugitive Pieces is based on a celebrated novel by Anne Michaels. It is suffused with the kind of richly crafted, poetry-engorged dialogue that never should have left a printed page. As Alex, Pike (Die Another Day) certainly has shameless vitality and does credit to the micro-miniskirts of the time. No actress, no matter how vital, could survive an immersion in the miswritten '60s radical talk in this film. The words here make the revolutionaries in Across the Universe sound as accurate as a 600-page history of the SDS. Podeswa, a longtime director of prestige TV at HBO, might have considered threading this sprawling story out as a miniseries. As a movie, it trades on traumas that are either glancingly described in flashbacks or else are explained in voice-over narration. One thing you can say about Fugitive Pieces: it avoids shameless vitality in the name of proud lifelessness.


Movie Times FUGITIVE PIECES (R; 104 min.), directed and written by Jeremy Podeswa, based on the novel by Anne Michaels, photographed by Gregory Middleton and starring Stephen Dillane and Rosamund Pike, opens Friday at the Del Mar in Santa Cruz.


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