The 2015 Milwaukee Film Festival came to a close yesterday, October 8, and with the final day came several big feature film screenings. Among the final film showings was “Run Boy Run (Lauf Junge Lauf)”, a German/French drama that left audiences in tears, amazed, and inspired.
“Run Boy Run” is the incredible true story of a Polish boy who goes from farm to farm, asking for work in exchange for food while dodging Nazi soldiers and trying to survive. Srulika must deny his name, family, religion, and very identity in order to stay alive, but after so much trauma, he faces an altogether new kind of struggle against his true identity and past memories.
First and foremost, Andrzej and Kamil Tkacz must be praised for their role as Srulika, aka Jurek Staniak. They are incredible young actors who capture very real, heart-wrenching emotions and complex reactions during a war that ended long before they were born. The audience can’t help but fall in love with Srulika either out of empathy during tearful disasters or admiration during his unwarranted optimism.
“Run Boy Run” is largely about perseverance and it’s dumbfounding within this particular setting to see such unrelenting perseverance from a little boy as he loses an arm, struggles through the elements, and faces the demons of his past. While Srulika, understandably, isn’t always the perfect picture of optimism, he never gives up and, knowing this is a true story, it is extremely touching and inspirational.
As might be expected, this historical drama can be hard to watch and times, but it gives a very real depiction of the times. Considering all the other horrific things that were happening during WWII, “Run Boy Run” really spares the audience, but still gives them a taste of mankind’s most brutish moments. Knowing that this film is based on a true story, following Srulika through his travels in the woods, and getting glimpses of his memories and dreams, truly gives the audience a sense that they’re actually watching history.
The film largely depicts Srulika’s physical struggle to survive, but part of what makes “Run Boy Run” so real for the audience is Srulika’s psychological struggle with his identity. The opening scene shows Srulika’s father telling him to deny that he’s Jewish, but never to forget it. The rest of the film shows the boy getting his false biography right, tricking farmers into housing him, and lying his way to safety. He adamantly denies that he’s Jewish and essentially becomes a practicing Catholic, receiving First Communion and regularly praying the rosary. The puzzle pieces of his past come together after the war ends and his biggest challenge begins once he must readdress his Jewish origins.
Even though “Run Boy Run” can be gruesome, emotional, and hard to watch, it’s ultimately uplifting and a testament to Srulika’s incredible spirit. Even when the audience loses hope, the boy doesn’t, and it’s tremendous to see amid such harsh circumstances. “Run Boy Run” comes with many important lessons, and among them is a reminder that there are some remarkable people in the world and that these terrible things actually happened and affected the lives of people still around today. But, even in the face of history’s greatest horrors, the relentless human spirit can’t be broken, even in the innocent, most impressionable youth.
The Milwaukee Film Festival closed Thursday, October 8. For more information, please visit the Milwaukee Film webpage.