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Life Arts    H4'ed 11/20/09

Defiance with Daniel Craig: Good movie that opens a BIG can of worms!

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Daniel Craig has failed so miserably as 007, that I decided to give him another chance when his film Defiance appeared in my local "Red Box" for only a dollar.

But as it happens, Defiance is much more. Not advertised is that Defiance is the true story of the Jewish Bielski brothers who operated extremely effectively as anti-Nazi partisans (historically true), and saved many Jews as Schindler did, not as refugees--as surviving natives of the forest they hid, and thrived, in.

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The plot is simple: Tuvia (Daniel Craig) arrives home to find that collaborating police have killed his parents. He and his brothers retreat into the forest they know very well and accidentally create a community of Jews who, rather than being victims, become an effective if tiny combat force. There are many levels of drama in the movie, but the most intense is between Tuvia and his brother, Zus (Liev Schreiber), whose love/hate relationship makes them nearly as combative with each other as they are with the Nazi enemy.

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Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber

The brothers fight each other one last time, and Zus, the more hawkish of the two, takes the best soldiers of the community to join a Soviet guerrilla force.
Tuvia, a brilliant tactician, remains to lead and protect the community against insurmountable odds with minimal causalities.
With the arrival of a major Nazi force, the Soviets retreat, and the community is attacked and forced into a swamp that is compared (quite sentimentally) to the Red Sea. Zus and his fighters rejoin the community just in time, flanking and exterminating the Nazis--to the extreme relief of both the community and the audience!

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I don't mean this as a spoiler, but as an in-road into the history of WWII: the just, if complicated, war. I, as a pacifist, believe WWII was necessary.

Defiance also shows the military strategy that so has effectively defeated invaders through history, and especially in our own invasion of Vietnam: digging into the woods and living, literally, underground, the tunnel communities of the Viet Cong.

But most important, Defiance brings up the major ironies of the Second World War, and shows us how its ironies persist in our lives today, especially with respect to globalism.

While exposing us to the irony of this war, Defiance unintentionally makes us look at the issues surrounding the endless pogroms that have plagued Europe, not only against Jews, but an endless number of cultures and political groups. And, as it happens, the
Bielski brothers were in fact traitors of a sort, and may have particiapted in a Soviet pogrom against Polish patriots.

Completely based on reality, and with minimal flights of cinematic fantasy, Defiance moved me to research the Bielski family. According to the Wikipedia, they fought
the Nazis by with the Soviets who had invaded their region as part of the Soviet invasion of Poland. Not only did a few of the brothers fight for the Soviets, the entire Bielski family worked as low-level administrators for the Soviet occupiers. According to the Wikipedia, most Jews of the region supported the Soviet invasion whose most tragic event was the extermination of the Polish intelligentsia by Soviet partisans in the Katyn Forest under orders unanimously signed by the Soviet Politburo. The Bielskis have been accused of complicity in with the Soviet invasion--and in fact, the movie is set in the Katyn forest.

At War's end, the brothers had to escape the region, as they were themselves pursed by the Soviets for a variety of issues, including anti-socialism within their forest community!

The Bielski brothers are unquestionably historical heros of the first order, making necessary sacrifices, not only to survive, but to thrive. And the historical holes intentionally left in Defiance, Zwik's historical expediences, taken by movie's maker, Edward Zwick, (and perhaps the story's author, Nechama Tec) are actually heightened by many of the characters statements, making one extremely curious about the events of the time.

In the end, the Bielskis never sought credit for their efforts, as the exiting credits state--but then maybe there is a reason for this, the brothers' necessary, but regrettable, cooperation with the Soviets.

From the military perspective, I writhed in frustration at some of the Bielski's strategic missteps. But as it happens, those were cinematic fantasy; in reality both brothers were experienced fighters, and adapted perfectly to the needs of forest survival. And they survived immigration to the US to found a New York City trucking firm!

Get and enjoy this movie, know that it is violently tragic (and a little lenghty) but that it ends happily. And take it to the Net--learn about how it REALLY goes down in war and in war's aftermath!

Further reading (required):
Bielski Brothers:

Katyn massacre:

A pro-Soviet review of the Defiance:

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Edward Zwik, right


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I am a worker, photographer, and writer. I am now working on a counseling masters degree focusing on youth and community, neurology and medication, and underlying genetics. My photography is my greatest accomplishment. The style is the art of (more...)
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