Waiting for Anya is directed by Ben Cookson and stars Noah Schnapp, Jean Reno, Thomas Kretschmann, Frederick Schmidt and Anjelica Huston. It will screen in select cinemas on 14 October 2021 as follows.
NSW - The Ritz Randwick; WA - Hoyts Carousel; TAS - Star Cinema, Launceston; QLD - New Farm, Regal Twin Graceville, Hoyts Stafford; SA - Wallis in Mitcham, Mt Barker, Noarlunga, Capri Theatre, Victor Harbour, Mt Gambier, Odeon Semaphore and Hoyts Tea Tree Plaza; VIC - Regional Vic only at Cloud 9 Cinema - Bright, Wallis Mildura, Wallis Echuca, Wallis Mansfield.
Set in 1943 in the picturesque French Pyrenees, life in the south of France continues as normal, even though Europe is ravaged by the horrors of World War II. Jo's (Noah Schnapp) life has remained remarkably untouched in the remote French countryside, until he stumbles upon a dangerous secret. The village outcast, widow Horcada (Anjelica Huston) and her son-in-law, Benjamin (Frederick Schmidt) have been smuggling Jewish children out of Nazi-occupied France to the safety of Spain.
When the German troops move into town, Jo, a teenage shepherd boy finds himself caught in a perilous conspiracy at a time of foreign occupation, and enlists the help of his grand-père, a veteran of The Great War. It's a time when innocence is lost, and Jo has to grow up fast if they are to survive, as he fulfils his responsibilities in helping a group of Jewish children escape,.
Waiting for Anya opens with great promise as it arrestingly takes place at a railway station, filling the screen with Jews with their star patches on their coats being herded and marched forward to enter the carriages. Amongst them is a father, Benjamin and his young daughter Anya. While the German troops are distracted, he begs passengers on another train to take Anya to safety. Unnoticed, Benjamin flees south to a small village near the Spanish border. It is where he will wait for his little Anya.
Hardly an original storyline, holocaust-themed films have been done many times over. However, with a young cast in the lead, it lends itself to a younger audience and thus the horrors attendant to the subject matter are softened. This makes for a bit of a flat unemotional watch, even though the whole film is beautiful to watch as it boasts handsome visuals and the beauty of its setting. The flash of danger you feel comes in the form of a mentally impaired friend of Jo's who adds a little danger to situations with his antagonising gestures.
There are shades of Good Nazi, Bad Nazi, perhaps to even out the playing field and present some form of fair and balanced representation, but the contrast between the two men seems very simplistically drawn. This film really adds nothing new to its story, and the only feisty moments you see comes from veteran star Angelica Huston, perfect as the old woman with a secret and a barbed wire approach hiding her soft heart, to keep her secrets guarded.
The film is based on a popular YA book by prolific English writer Michael Morpurgo, best known for his WWI Novel, The War Horse, and it is inspired by French villagers who rescued Jewish children from the Nazis by smuggling them over the mountains into Spain. It is narrated in large parts by an old man describing his life as a young shepherd. Though based on real-life heroics, the film comes across as just average, and works at saving itself for authenticity with justification appearing at the end in the form of real-life, chilling statistics of the number of Jews murdered and saved. It's a very watchable film with lilting moments, as long as you're not expecting a masterpiece.