Fugitive Pieces


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

As a boy in Poland, Jakob watched his parents killed and his sister abducted by Nazis. He hid behind some wallpaper, then later fled into the forest and buried himself, where he had the good fortune to be found by a kindly Greek archeologist, who snuck him back to Greece at great risk to himself.

"If not for you, he would be dead," the professor is told back in Greece.

"If not for him, I would be dead," he responds. As it turns out, if the professor had not taken time away from his expedition to save the boy, he would have been murdered or sent to a concentration camp, as his colleagues soon were. "We saved each other."

Thus begins the story of Jakob, who lived to adulthood in Canada but could never seem to overcome his childhood trauma. The very presence of his lively first wife torments him, not by malice, for she is a good woman, but simply by being filled with the joy and vitality Jakob can never experience. She, on the other hand, gradually becomes more and more irritated by his obsession with the Holocaust, and eventually abandons him to the solitude he requires to commune with his ghosts.

At this point the book and the film run in perfect synch. Make a note of that. I'll return to that point in a while. The book and the film are about to diverge, and that separation creates an important point. As the book tells it, Jakob finds a second wife, moves back to Greece, starts to overcome his emotional repression, and approaches a happiness which is cut short ironically. The story is then taken up elsewhere, following a new protagonist, Ben, a child of Holocaust survivors and Jakob's protege in Canada, now a professor who is obsessed with his former mentor. At the end of the novel, Ben travels to Greece to retrieve Jacob's diaries, and there becomes deeply immersed in his mentor's history.

You can well imagine that this would be difficult to capture on film. The disappearance of the protagonist halfway into the film would be problematic enough, but the adaptation problems are more complicated than that, divided into two categories:

First, there are ongoing themes and metaphors which are difficult to convey in pictures. Jakob is obsessed with his own past. Ben is obsessed with Jakob's past. The kindly archeologist, given his profession, is obsessed with the past in general, and his work is used to explore the intrinsic nature of the changes produced by time, which is in turn used to echo and to give greater depth and universality to the book's personal stories.

Second, the source of this film is the first novel written by a poet. It relies heavily on the power of language to deliver its message. It is the kind of prose-poetry which is meant to be read aloud by actors like Richard Harris, who can milk every drop of emotional resonance from it.

It was nearly impossible to leap over all of those hurdles to produce a fluid film. The screenplay did succeed to some extent. While the metaphorical layers of of the story had to be abandoned in the interest of pacing, the film does incorporate some of that heartbreakingly beautiful prose into narrative. But a film cannot be a 90-minute oral recitation. It must tell some kind of story. Up to the point I bookmarked above, the film followed the book's plot perfectly and completely, and to the extent that it covers that portion of the story, Fugitive Pieces is a profoundly moving film backed by a score of unearthly melancholy.

Perhaps it should have stopped right there. I found the film's conclusion to be adrift somewhere, requiring an anchor, just stopping at a point which seems completely arbitrary, leaving the fates of all the characters hanging, and dripping with pretentiousness. Maybe the book was just an impossible one to adapt, but this film came very close to pulling it off, then didn't quite know how to close the sale.


* DVD info not yet available. This link goes to the book, which is written masterfully.







2 James Berardinelli (of 4 stars)
3.5 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
67 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
60 Metacritic.com (of 100)


6.9 IMDB summary (of 10)


Box Office Mojo. It grossed about half a million dollars in arthouse distribution. (38 theaters max)


  • Rosamund Pike and Ayelet Zurer showed their breasts in subtle nude scenes. Zurer's scene is clear and brightly lit.


Web www.scoopy.com

Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


It's a very good drama, but it feels like it should have been a great one and quite didn't know how.