Miriam is a paean to Jewish oppression as if commissioned by the History Channel. Despite being based on real events, the film’s evocation of time and place as seen through the eyes of its titular character plays out like a study guide for those unfamiliar with its historical territory. A Lithuanian Jew only 14-years-old at the start of the Holocaust, Miriam Schafer (Ariana Savalas) loses her entire family to the invading Nazis before being rescued by the Jewish underground. Placed in the care of a Christian family, Miriam—now Magdalena—suffers further devastation when, out of fear of losing the haven provided to her, willingly succumbs to her adoptive cousin’s (Peter J. Lucas, seemingly still in character from Inland Empire) unwanted advances. The resulting child, as well as much of the life to follow, stands as a hallmark for the ways in which good can come out of the most unimaginable of evils, but Miriam sacrifices a more in-depth look at these rigors at the prospect of squeezing an entire lifetime into but two hours of running time. Interview footage of fellow Holocaust survivors is sporadically inserted throughout the recreated proceedings to little effect, most of it merely restating in different terms the material having just preceded it; likewise, the film’s voiceover serves to remind the viewer of the film’s themes ad nauseam. This would be less aggravating if the film truly functioned as the living, breathing memoir it seemingly intends to be, but Miriam never digs beneath the surface of its characters and social conflicts in ways that suggest a half-century’s worth of wisdom at play. That the film’s minimal sets and less-than-perfect location work suggests the filmmakers were able to do a whole lot with next to nothing makes this earnestly told story an admirable exercise in independent cinema, but after everything from Shoah to Schindler’s List, more intimate details of any survivor’s story are needed to truly distinguish it from the rest. Miriam evokes such closeness only once, in a masterful montage of black-and-white photographs used to wordlessly convey what was had and lost, with breathtaking emotional insight.
- Miriam Productions LLC
- 122 min
- Matt Cimber
- Matt Cimber, John F. Goff
- Ariana Savalas, Eric Axen, Ashlyn Dixon, Dimitri Diatchenko, Nina Franoszek, Peter J. Lucas, Benjamin Maccabee
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