No Place on Earth Directed by: Janet Tobias Documentary Running Time: 1 hr 24 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: April 19, 2013 (Chicago)
PLOT: A documentary about an extended family who hid in two different caves to elude the Gestapo during World War II. Partially told with dramatic reenactments.
WHO'S IT FOR? One does not need to be a fan of history, or even directly drawn to Holocaust survival stories, to enjoy No Place on Earth. This movie can easily appeal to and entertain any audience member who likes discovering a great true story.
- READ our interview with Director Janet Tobias & Survivors Sima Dodyk Blitzer, Sonia Dodyk Hochman, and Sam Stermer
To paraphrase a point by critic comrade Bill Stamets, "It's not the survivors' fault they survived."
No Place on Earth is evidence that while cinema seems to have a soft spot for stories of survival during the Holocaust, such fascination often comes within reason. Sure, there are movies that seem only out to manipulate the vulnerable heartstrings of such a traumatic historical event. But then there are survival movies like last year's In Darkness, which brought to light an incredible story of Jews who lived in the sewers in order to hide from Nazis. Or with No Place on Earth, here is a narrative that defines unbelievable storytelling, its believability reinforced by the personal reflections of its speaking survivors. Like other tales of Holocaust survival, here is a gripping story that encapsulates so many factors of human existence, including the heroic will to live, while staring into the face of unpredictable circumstances.
While the film may be presented by The History Channel, this tale is not something that could have its emotional value, or shifting tale of events, justified in a one hour special. At the same time, some of the events in this story are so unbelievable, that they wouldn't transition believably into a thoroughly narrative feature. In a regular film, the story's miraculous moments, close calls, and entire plot might feel contrived.
Providing the best form of film storytelling for this tale by mixing dramatic reenactments with survivor interviews, No Place on Earth captures the entire picture of the story; its before and afters, showing its unbearable intensity 69 years ago, and how it resonates now. Along with this, Tobias nicely sets this story to be not just about a family's incredible survival, but their discovery in history, by a cave explorer living not so far from one of the survivors (who isn't a sucker for small world tales?).
Wary not of the History Channel association, (despite their overall decent productions), as the reenactments shown in the film, shot with a keen dramatic eye, don't cheapen the doc's storytelling but enhance it. Pulling off an excellent double dip, the compelling No Place on Earth conveys its real life documentary events like a great narrative.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10