Ludi Boeken's Saviors in the Night manages to avoid some of the problems that have plagued recent fictional films dedicated to the Holocaust. It mostly eschews milking historical tragedy for cheap tears and it doesn't adopt a glossy aesthetic that allows the viewer to keep a comfortable distance from the material. Instead, Boeken concocts a snowy, gritty look for his film that is handsome but never overly prettified, while maintaining an air of danger and tension as the narrative unfolds.
Still, Saviors in the Night is ultimately a film whose merits are more to be found in what it doesn't do than what it does. Which is to say that Boeken's recasting of the real-life drama of a heroic German farm family who hid Jews during World War II is nothing more nor less than a fairly predictable drama of fear, love, and noble behavior that happens to use the Holocaust as its backdrop. Most of the violence remains off screen; instead we share in the terror of a mother and her daughter as they adopt gentile names and narrowly avoid detection. We commiserate in the sorrow of their husband/father as he's forced to seek shelter on his own. And we witness the familial strains within the noble German clan, particularly in the case of their Hitler Youth daughter who winds up undergoing a (too easy) moral transformation.
It's all fairly by the numbers, but in Boeken's presentation, the film isn't without its moments of narrative power. (A late scene of the father, transformed into a broken man by his war experiences, is particularly memorable.) Still, there are few surprises here, which means that, though it avoids some of the negative tendencies of any number of recent fictional films about the Shoah, Saviors in the Night is still just one more film that uses the Holocaust as a setting to tell a fairly conventional story. That the story—or some version therein—really happened may lend the material a certain moral authority, but Boeken's film still can't quite escape the trap that comes from turning atrocity into something to be safely enjoyed in the comforts of an art-house screening room.