Edges of the Lord
2005
Set in World War II Poland, this earnest drama stars Haley Joel Osment as Romek, a 12-year-old Jewish boy dispatched to the countryside to live with a family of Catholic peasants in the hope of saving him from the Nazis. Passed off as a nephew whose parents have fallen ill, Romek is befriended by a parish priest (Willem Dafoe) who tutors him on Catholic catechism. But the horrors of war are never far away as Romek adapts to his new life.

Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”

Only by my standards could this be called a 2005 film: Haley Joel Osment filmed it in the spring of 2000 before moving on to "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence," and it saw various foreign releases (theatrical and video) until Miramax quietly distributed it stateside on DVD in the first week of January 2005. That's a shame, because it's a powerful film with a great story to tell, the kind of authentic drama you assume is pure autobiography only until you learn the writer-director was born after it takes place. A living, breathing, bleeding portrayal of rural Poland under Nazi oppression, the film tells its tale with such attention to detail and such three-dimensional characters that it feels much more real than most movies that take place in the present, and as a result the film is considerably more thrilling and more disturbing than it could have been. More than a week has passed since I watched it, and still I'm haunted by one character's villainy, turning the scene over and over in my mind wondering whether I could find a way out if I were in little Osment's shoes. I probably couldn't. No one could. The inescapability of this kind of evil is one of its most chilling traits.

I mentioned the attention to detail. One of my favorite scenes comes when a boy and girl make a show of locking themselves in a barn, pretending to engage in sin, but they only wind up sitting in a tub full of black seeds and sprinkling handfuls on each other. There's no symbolism to the scene, no advancement of the plot, no statement about the characters; the scene is about nothing more than the simple pleasure of watching how seeds bounce off of naked knees. The film has an important story to tell, but does not tell it so urgently that it neglects to pause at moments of interest. Overall, the film has a few flaws too large to overlook, including some heavy-handed foreshadowing that may as well display on the screen in BIG CAPITAL LETTERS which characters are doomed, but its strengths are many: Intelligence, raw tragedy, a deep consideration of religious morality, a beautiful score by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, and a performance good enough to remind you why Willem Dafoe used to be regarded so highly. Don't let another five years go by before you see this. I recommend it highly.

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