Synopsis: In postwar Poland, a Jewish mother and Holocaust survivor raises her two boys as Catholic for their own protection. But when the boys join a neo-Nazi gang, she is forced to reveal the truth to them about their heritage. Due to events beyond their control, the family is soon forced to leave Poland...
Life in a kibbutz is hard work for viewers in torpid Israeli drama
the narrative slows to a crawl, relieved only by several flashpoints
ISRAELI FILM FESTIVAL: Whether or not to have a circumcision may well be a painful decision for a 10-year-old boy, especially one who grew up hating Jews, but it’s a slender thread in the narrative of My Australia.
Set largely in a kibbutz in the 1960s, the debut film from writer-director Ami Drozd is heavy going, despite a potentially intriguing plot which revolves around such issues as anti-Semitism, neo-Nazis, religious and cultural identity and the bonds between siblings. Among other key weaknesses are the uneven performances and the inconsistent, unexplained changes in behaviour of the three lead characters.
Events unfold from the perspective of 10-year-old Tadek (Jakub Wróblewski), a limiting device because it leaves numerous unanswered questions about the troubled lad and his family.
Tadek lives in Lodz, Poland, with his 14-year-old brother Andrzej (Lukasz Sikora) and their mother Halina (Aleksandra Poplawska). Both siblings are wild: Andrzej exhibits all the symptoms of a sociopath and Tadek is a thief and a hustler although he was raised as a Catholic and goes to church. They run with a gang of young neo-Nazi thugs who delight in harassing and bashing Jewish kids.
Both lads are arrested after one such attack but are released after Halina tells the cops their dad was a war hero who died in her arms several years earlier: a blatant untruth, but we’re never told what happened to him.
Tadek is shocked when his brother informs him their mother is Jewish but excited when she announces they are going to Australia: the kid has a fetish about the country, playing violent games with kangaroos in a toy farm he keeps under his bed.
En route she admits their destination is, in fact, Israel, and tells Tadek that he, like her, is Jewish. ”I won’t go to stinking Palestine,” he responds. She later reveals she was a survivor of the ghetto, opening up a potentially rich avenue for drama which Drozd curiously ignores.
After docking in Haifa, Halina dumps her sons in a kibbutz, each with a different family, while she seeks work. There, Tadek is treated kindly by his foster parents and begins to straighten out his life as he learns about atrocities perpetrated by Poles during the war. By contrast, the anti-social Andrzej shows no inclination to reform himself and vows he will return to Poland.
Life in the kibbutz is depicted in tedious detail as the narrative slows to a crawl, relieved only by several flashpoints including simmering tensions when the other kids in the commune brand Tadek as a gentile. The protracted debate over circumcision is similarly lacking in dramatic energy. There is a dash of humour in Tadek’s unwillingness to shower with the other boys and girls.
Wróblewski twists and contorts his cherubic face in a fair simulation of his character’s anger and hostility, although his transformation into a respectful and upstanding lad is a bit hard to swallow. Sikora does not deviate much from playing a selfish, unlikable sociopath but Drozd can’t resist sugar-coating the role as he contrives to end the film on an optimistic note.
Poplawska struggles with the task of playing a mother who starts out as harsh and feckless, castigating Tadek as a “little bastard”, but is required by the script to become caring and loving: that’s a stretch for anyone.
The often dull lighting and conventional camera angles bespeak a low budget and, perhaps, the inexperience of Drozd, a film editor who has directed documentaries and TV series.
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