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The Path (Der Pfad) - Film Review (German Film Festival 2022)

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by Nicholas Gordon (subscribe)
Freelance writer based in Sydney.
Event: -
A father and son flee occupied France
Screening as part of the German Film Festival, The Path follows 12-year-old Rolf (Julius Weckauf) and his father Ludwig (Volker Bruch). They are marking time in Marseille, trying to get as far away from the Nazis as they can. Back in Germany, Ludwig was an outspoken journalist, and now finds himself on a Nazi wanted list. Ludwig's plan is to reach New York to reunite with Rolf's mother. The trip will be perilous, involving a train ride to the Spanish border and a hike across the Pyrenees, all before they can get to an America-bound ship in Portugal.

After procuring forged documents, Rolf and his father set out for Spain. Near the border they are met by sympathisers who will arrange their passage and here they are startled to learn that their guide across the Pyrenees will be a young girl named Nuria (Gonna Cardoner). Ludwig is told that Nuria, despite her young age, is their best chance of eluding the border guards. Ludwig's not so sure, but has little choice. Also putting a wrinkle in things is Rolf's dog (named Adi, short for Adolph). Rolf wants to take him to New York, but Nuria scotches the idea and says Adi needs to stay. Rolf's solution is to get Adi drunk and secrete the inebriated dog in his bag.

It's an extremely bad idea, made apparent when not long into the journey, Adi gives away the trio's location to a group of officers patrolling the mountains. Realising their peril, Ludwig gives himself up and is carted away, leaving Rolf and Nuria to continue the journey by themselves. Torn between reuniting with his mother and learning the fate of his father, Rolf must decide what to do, a task made more complicated when he learns about Nuria's circumstances.

A joint Spanish/German production, The Path follows some well-worn themes. The film's boldest stroke comes when Ludwig is captured (it's especially shocking coming after some rather unconvincing earlier escapes). It leaves Nuria and Rolf to fend for themselves and results in some of the film's strongest moments, as the no-nonsense Nuria forms a bond with Rolf. A scene in which Rolf pulls Nuria into a mountain pool before learning that she can't swim is memorable. Both child actors do delightfully well, taking us inside their world with convincing performances.

There is style in the settings and period features of the film, especially the wild and windswept Pyrenees and the old villages which need little window-dressing to look like they did 80 years ago. The rest of the film's elements are pleasant enough, but assembled together there just aren't enough surprises, and you can't help but think Rolf and Nuria's journey should be more captivating.

The Path (Der Pfad) is screening as part of the German Film Festival which runs May-June. See for details.
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Why? For an escape trail.
When: May-June 2022
Where: Palace Cinemas
Cost: Check with cinema
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