Four years before Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful another Italian (actually French and Italian) production recounted the horrific situation European Jews faced when the Nazi's marched in. Both films deal with the trauma war had inflicted on the children - too young to know what was going on, but equally punished - but Look to the Sky, or Jona Che Visse Nella Balena(Jona Who Lived in the Whale), focuses on not just telling the story through the eyes of a child but the voice as well, because the film is narrated by Jonah, a young boy from Amsterdam whose family is rounded up and sent to the Belson concentration camp. Written by Hugh Fleetwood, Fillippo Ottoni, and Roberto Faenza, who also directed it, but the script was based on the pages of Jona Oberski's autobiography, Childhood . The film was originally released in 1993, and has been remastered and reissued by Picture This.
Jonah (Luke Patterson as young Jonah, and Jenner Del Vecchio as older Jonah) is just another boy in lovely Amsterdam until one day another child calls him a dirty Jew. As quickly as that, his family's sophisticated life is turned upside down and torn apart; first with the sewing of yellow stars, and next by being round up and sent to the Belson concentration camp to work and starve to death. Juliet Aubrey and Jean-Hugues Anglade are Jonah's parents and while they do their best to ease his worries the young boy has nobody to make a game out of the ghastly affair, and most often has to console himself. Dad did teach him to enjoy the little things in life no matter how grim things look, as he risked life for the simple pleasure of his cigars. His parents did offer their boy a little hope in the beginning, promising their him they were on their way to Palestine; and despite being on a list of people allowed to emigrate, the concept of making it to the Promised Land became a dream even they stopped dreaming.
Aubrey and Anglade have genuine chemistry and do a fine job translating the pain and damage inflicted upon their relationship. The couple was separated and their last moment together is filled sadness and tenderness, and was an image Jonah would never forget. A smaller than average child, Jonah learns that if he didn't man-up and eat with the big boys then he would starve and eventually he'd be discarded. A sympathetic cook lets the children sneak in for the scraps, helping little Jonah out just a bit more then the rest. Both Jonah's are excellent and the transition from one actor to the other was smooth and cohesive. Patterson was also five when filming but he's a complete natural, and Del Vecchio conveys convincing angst and charm as a boy struggling to develop into a real person while trying to stay alive.
Anne Frank wasn't lucky enough to make it out of Belson, but under strange circumstances involving floundering German soldiers and rescuing Russian soldiers, Jonah eventually makes it back to Amsterdam to grow up and tell us his story. László Gárdonyi's production design works hand in hand with Elisabetta Beraldo's costuming, which is captured by the steady camera work of János Kende. It's Ennio Morricone's original score that not only moves the whole film along, but also moves you - coaxing but not manipulating our emotions with his exquisite arrangements and descriptive instrumentation. The director utilizes several languages (Dutch, English, German, and Yiddish) without offering subtitles, and this actually helps not only in its realism but in illustrating the disorientation everyone must've been experiencing. Look to the Sky won two awards in two festivals: Best Costumes in the David di Donatello Awards, the Ecumenical Jury Award in the Moscow International Film Festival, and they were nominated for several other awards as well.
Video: Remastered and looking good and even though you can still see imperfections coming from a beat-up print, but I would still compliment the quality widescreen image. As drab as a concentration camp can look, the DVD captures the lushness of the surrounding greens, as well as the cold and depressing grays.
Sound: You have your choice of the 2.0 Stereo track or the 5.1 Dolby Surround track, both of them recreate the anxiety of marching, shooting, and crying. Not too much on the surround front, but the sound is still all encompassing.
Not sure if its exploitive or not, but you navigate the menus with a Jewish Star highlighter. It's kind of funny.
Original Theatrical Trailer
Coming Attractions The Recruiter, The Boy From Lebanon,A Love to Hide, Before The fall, The Whore's Son, Mirage, The Great Water, Class Trip, Beach Café , L'Amour Dangereux
Look to the Sky is both touching and effective, and while it hits all the familiar notes of a Holocaust story, it feels . Yes it's depressing, but its brutality doesn't keep you from absorbing its optimistic message of survival and endurance. The subject matter is dealt with using a sensitive touch, and the filmmakers never lose sight that it's Jonah's innocent eyes that we're seeing this chaos for the first time - which makes it like the first time for us, despite the amount of WWII movies out there.
Why are our days numbered and not, say, lettered?