Edges of the Lord (2000)
Director: Yurek Bogayevicz.
Starring: Haley Joel Osment (Romek), Willem Dafoe (Priest), Liam Hess (Tolo), Richard Banel (Vladek), Olaf Lubaszenko (Gniecio), Malgorzata Foremniak (Manka), Andrzej Grabowski (Kluba), Chiril Vahonin (Robal), Ola Frycz (Maria), Dorota Piasecka (Ela Kluba), Wojciech Smolarz (Pyra), Marek Weglarski (Max), Edyta Jurecka (Sara), Ryszard Ronczewski (Batylin), Krystyna Feldman (Wanda).
in Poland, Christians hide a Jewish boy from the Nazis
1942 Krakow, Poland. The Nazis occupy Poland. Romek is a twelve year old Jewish boy. His father says it's dangerous to be a Jew. Romek the narrator says that his family had to separate in order to survive. He had to learn Catholic prayers and pretend to be a Catholic. A Catholic man named Gniecio comes to the home to take Romek with him to the country. Romek does not want to go and his mother does not want him to go. But father insists and so Romek is forced into a potato sack. Gniecio places Romek in the sack on the back of his horse-drawn wagon. Romek quickly learns why he has to be smuggled out into the country. A Nazi shoots a Jew directly behind the wagon on which Romek will be traveling.
Arriving in the small village, Gniecio and Romek run into the Catholic priest. The priest comments: "So, this is the boy!" Reaching his home Gniecio tells his neighbors that Romeks is his wife's cousin's son. Gniecio introduces his wife Manka, the older son Vladek and the younger son Tolo to Romek. Vladek already doesn't like Romek, while Tolo readily accepts him. In the home Romek is introduced to the family pig, who is kept secretly and illegally in the basement. (If the pig is discovered, the Nazis will shoot its owners.) At night Romek hears Manka tell her husband: "He's going to get us all killed."
Romek the narrator says that he soon learned that the kids were dangerous, especially Maria, Valdek's girlfriend. At church the priest announces that he is starting catechism classes for the young people: Vladek, Tolo, Romek, Maria and two older boys Robal and Pyra. While walking with the youths in the class, news arrives that the Germans have come to neighbor Batylin's field looking for pigs. The priest races to the field. He speaks with the Nazi officer in charge begging him to spare the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Batylin who are kneeling, waiting to be shot by the guard in front of them. The officer tells him that if the priest will catch the pigs in the field, he will spare one life for each pig caught. The priest tries hard to catch the pigs, but cannot. First Mrs. Batylin is killed, then her husband.
Romek wonders what the deal is with the trains, about which no one is to talk about with him. He sees the priest flagellating himself for his failure to save the Batylins. Oddly Tolo reenacts the priest's pig chase to the amazement of the priest and his fellow catechism students. The priest has the students study two apostles each. Tolo decides he will not be an apostle but be Jesus.
The neighbor Kluba, father to Robal, is going to be a problem. He is nasty and a drunk and is very suspicious that Romek is Jewish.
Maria plays a game with the other students. She takes Romek with her into the barn. Her instructions to the others are that when she comes out of the barn, the students will pretend to stone her. In the barn there is some sexual talk between Maria and Romek. Vladek is very angry at Romek because Maria picked Romek, not him. On the way back to their house Valdek shouts to a passing German soldier: "Soldier, Jew." The soldier stops and asks where is the Jew. Tolo steps up and says he's the Jew, but with his blonde hair and his youth, the soldier dismisses the idea. He then shoves Vladek to the ground for trying to play a trick on him.
Tolo has been acting rather strangely. He begins to think that he is Jesus and that he must save others by making various self-sacrifices. Tolo refuses to take his hat off at dinner. Father and mother discover why when they find a crown of thorns hidden within the cap.
Gniecio tells his family that neighbor Kluba has found a buyer for the pig. The two of them go off with the pig to sell it. Kluba comes back without the pig or the money, but with the dead body of Gniecio. Kluba tells everyone that a Nazi shot Gniecio in the back of the head. Gniecio's family is devastated and Romek very upset.
Manka asks Romek to watch her son Tolo because Tolo loves Romek so much. One night Tolo goes outside to run around in circles in the rain. Romek tries to get him back into the house, but Tolo won't go. Tolo was doing his "Jesus exercises" mentioned as a joke to him by Pyra and Vladek. Manka blames Romek for Tolo's getting sick and she throws Romek out of the house for not watching Tolo.
Romek is taken in by Maria. Later Vladek comes to Maria's place. Through the open windown, he tells the hiding Romek to come back him because Tolo is sick and has asked for Romek. Both Maria and Romek come to the house to see Tolo. The sick boy tells Romek that one night he is going to hang on the tree (in a crucifixion pose) to get ready to get the dead papas back. When Tolo gets better he baptizes the children. He tells them that he is going to suffer for them, but he will make things better. Romek head-butts Pyra in the nose, breaking it, for screaming that Romek should be on the trains. (Even though Romek doesn't know what the train remark fully means.) Romek decides to see what is the deal with the trains. He sneaks out at night and sees two people jump off the train. They are Jews being taken to a concentration camp. When Romek returns home Vladek asks him "Were they jumping tonight?"
The priest has done some detective work and confronts Kluba. No Nazi shot Gniecio. And Gniecio never sold the pig to the buyer. Instead, Kluba sold the pig by himself and kept the money. And Kluba, obviously, killed Gniecio. Romek in hiding hears the whole conversation. Now he is very worried that Kluba is going to turn him into the Nazis. The priest reassures Romek that he will be all right. He shows Romek how he makes the hosts for communion with something like a cookie cutter. Because the priest knows that Romek is Jewish, he only gives him some of the edges of the material to eat.
Back home with Manak, she tells Romek that he can stay with her and her family. Maria pledges her love to Romek and Romek reciprocates. Tolo has Vladek, Maria and Romek tie him to a tree in a crucifixion stance. He then tells the three to leave because he wants to be alone. (The three only go up the hill so they can still keep an eye on Tolo.) The bad boys Robal and Pyra happen by. They start teasing Tolo. Tolo is saved by the three children. Untying him makes Tolo upset because he says: "Now papa is never coming back."
Vladek and Romek go out to see Jews jump from the train. In the process, they discover something more sinister. Robal and Pyra are killing and robbing the escaped Jews. Robal uses an axe to do the job. Romek tells Vladek that Robal's father killed his father Gniecio. This puts Romek in trouble with Robal and Pyra. One day Robal and Pyra follow Romek and Maria to the local lake. Pyra knocks Romek down with a rock and Robal knocks Maria down and out. The two bad boys then throw Romek from the cliff into the lake. Robal sends Pyra home and stays to rape Maria.
Tolo, who followed the two groups, rushes home to tell Vladek what happened. Vladek rushes to the lake and jumps in to save Romek who is having an impossible time trying to climb back up the cliff. As the boys rest, Maria arrives and places herself in the water at the lake edge.
Vladek and Romek go out to the trains again. Vladek has a pistol with him. He wants to kill Robal. They find Robal doing his filthy job. He has hit a Jewish man on the head with his axe and is now robbing him and the two women with him. Vladek approaches Robal and shoots him twice killing him. Vladek says: "That was for you papa." He does not have a father and now Kluba does not have a son. Vladek gives the pistol to Romek. German soldiers arrive and Vladek takes off. This leaves Romek holding the gun. But instead of the Nazi officer being angry at Romek, he is actually pleased. He thinks that Romek has been killing and robbing escaped Jews. He figures that Romek is helping the German soldiers do their job of rounding up the Jews, dead or alive. The Nazi officer has a soldier give Romek a short ride in his vehicle. Romek is then made to take at gunpoint valuable items from a line of Jewish escapees. The scared young boy plays his part for fear of what might happen to him if he does not obey.
Vladek is brought in by some soldiers. He keeps shouting that he is not Jewish, he is Polish. They don't believe him, but Romek speaks up in his defense. The Germans are a bit wary, but let Vladek go. The story is different, however, for Tolo. Tolo joins the Jews getting on the train. Vladek and Romek shout that Tolo is not Jewish, but the Nazi officer asks Tolo, still playing the role of Jesus, if he knows the two boys and he says he does not. Tolo is helped onto the train. Romek tries to talk with the Nazi officer, but he only asks Romek if he wants to get on the train with Tolo. No.
Back in church, the catechism class is receiving communion. When the priest reaches Romek, the young lad hesitates to take the host into his mouth. But the priest gets his attention and shows Romek that he is not giving him a host but one of the edges of the material out of which the hosts are made. So Romek receives not the host, but the edges of the Lord.
Narrator Romek says that he is very grateful to all who helped him remain what he is: Jewish and alive.
Good film. It deals in part with the fear of that the Poles hiding Jewish people had to deal with under Nazi suppression. And it deals with the fear that a Jewish boy undergoes while trying to avoid capture or having someone turn him in to the Nazis. At the same time it is a coming of age story that is interesting, even if a bit unusual. This coming of age, however, is under some very terrible conditions, namely Nazi occupation and tyranny. The child actors did a good job.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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