A Bag of Marbles

⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars

Unrated; contains strong language, violence and brutality.

Theater: Edina.


Realists are likely to be incensed by this Holocaust drama. But viewers willing to accept what filmmaker Christian Duguay is trying to accomplish will react differently.

We know the full scale of the horrors that are threatening the film’s central figures — two Jewish boys in Nazi-occupied France — but the youngsters don’t. As they flee for their lives, we’re asked to empathize with the dread these children must be feeling when forced to leave a happy and loving home.

Joseph (Dorian Le Clech) and his brother Maurice (Batyste Fleurial) are the youngest of four sons of a Jewish barber (Patrick Bruel) in occupied Paris. The boys’ parents decide to send them off, by themselves (so as not to arouse suspicion), to the French “free zone,” where they will meet up with the rest of the family. They end up hitchhiking to this promised land, not the only journey they will be forced to take.

Duguay nicely suggests the sense of youthful freedom that the boys periodically feel, while not turning a blind eye to the deadly hazards of the road (including collaborators, con men and German officials bent on tricking them into revealing their Jewish heritage). But it’s a false paradise. When the Germans cement their control over the area, Joseph and Maurice are forced to move again.

There are moments when “A Bag of Marbles” threatens to stray off into wistfulness, with its emphasis on childish things, its nostalgia-tinged photography and a rosy depiction of the allure of family life that sometimes strays toward the sentimental.

In the end, these are minor matters, and we can’t help but admire the boys’ intelligence and resiliency (and, frankly, their luck — a point the film insists on repeatedly).

WALTER ADDIEGO, San Francisco Chronicle


Where Is Kyra?

⋆⋆ out of four stars

Unrated; contains strong language.

Theater: Edina.


Nigerian-born filmmaker Andrew Dosunmu’s drama “Where Is Kyra?” depicts how perilously close to the edge of poverty many working-class Americans live.

After her marriage falls apart, Kyra (Michelle Pfeiffer) moves to an ungentrified part of Brooklyn to care for her ailing mother, played by a gruffly nuanced Suzanne Shepherd. When the older woman dies, Kyra is sent into a desperate free-fall, fueled by her inability to find a job.

Pfeiffer’s searingly unadorned performance imbues the film with a palpable — and humiliating — helplessness. With each setback, Kyra’s identity becomes increasingly submerged, until what’s left is unrecognizable. Unfortunately, Darci Picoult’s screenplay is frustratingly slight, never evolving beyond this one note. It doesn’t help that there aren’t many other characters who enter Kyra’s orbit.

One of them is Doug, played by Kiefer Sutherland in a variation of his rough-edged good guy. He falls for Kyra but is unable to save her, and eventually gets sucked into her vortex of misfortune.

Even at just over 90 minutes the film feels painfully long, paralyzed by a numbing bleakness. It’s a dramatic slog that too often feels like a shallow imitation of an art film.