Sensitively adapted from the achingly sad, luminous novel by Anne Michaels, "Fugitive Pieces" is a story of unspeakable loss and how it eats at the souls of survivors. Made with an unerring visual dazzle - its dark corners are shadowy, deep and melancholy, its brilliant seascapes the sparkling embodiment of why we must all find a reason to carry on - the film follows the life of Jakob Beer, a Jewish boy plucked from his hiding place under a pile of leaves after a Nazi raid on his Polish village.
Jakob should have perished with his family; instead, he is rescued by a kind and brave Greek geologist working in the forest. Athos (Rade Sherbedgia) smuggles the boy to his island home, where they ride out the war and eventually emigrate to Canada. But the adult Jakob, a writer, remains haunted by memories of his parents and his beautiful teenage sister Bella, dragged out of the house to a fate he cannot stop imagining.
Director/screenwriter Jeremy Podeswa has worked mostly in TV - he's directed episodes of everything from "The Tudors" and "Dexter" to "Six Feet Under" and "Nip/Tuck" - but his work on the big screen feels seamless. Skillfully lifting whole passages from the novel, he deftly constructs the film in non-chronological and poignant fragments of Jakob's life: a flash of his mother sifting flour; his sister's instructive tone as she talks about her hero Bach; his friendship with his neighbors, also Holocaust survivors; his impulsive marriage to the high-spirited Alex (Rosamund Pike), whose sunny personality withers under Jakob's silences. He is unhappy with her, understanding far too well that "to live with ghosts requires solitude."
The child Jakob is played by Robbie Kay, all wounded eyes and knobby legs, and the adult Jakob by Stephan Dillane (recently seen as Thomas Jefferson in the HBO miniseries "John Adams"). Both reflect an inward torment, fear and pain, that's vivid in every gesture, every movement, every look. Jakob has learned to love over the years: He loves Athos, of course, and Ben, his neighbors' son. But as he did in the forest years earlier, he must stay at least partially hidden.
Podeswa wisely alters the book's downbeat ending, which may have been too painful to bear. Instead, in the film's closing scenes, he highlights the moments in which Jakob finally finds salvation. In allowing himself to be open to the full weight of life's possibilities, both good and bad, Jakob finally hears the dead's insistence that we go on. Maybe he's just listening to himself. Either way, Podeswa suggests, life is short, and we must pay attention. *