*Note – originally written on Amazon based on a free copy by Amazon
Like most other reviewers have commented here, I had never heard of Perlasca, though was always aware that there were likely very many unsung heroes during the war who did whatever they could to save lives and help in the struggle against the Nazis. The obvious comparisons with this show, and with the story, are with Schindler’s List, and I was worried that this would be a low-budget affair with too many cheap similarities. Thankfully, within the opening moments of the movie (split into two parts for Italian television) it is clear that a lot of money, effort, dedication, and love were put into making this. We get an action packed, tense opening to set the scene and introduce a few of the main characters and Morricone’s tragic, soaring score sets a high standard for miniseries/tv movies to follow. To summarise the story briefly will not do it any justice, but for those looking for such things this is the story of a man who, thanks to his past and position, struggles to save the lives of as many persecuted Jews as possible whilst simultaneously trying to get out of occupied Hungary and back home to his wife. Using his greatest powers – confidence, intrigue, persuasion, powerful allies, and of course great doses of fortune, he masterminds the saving of many lives.
Everything about this production has a quality sheen to it, from the large cast who are, without exception, brilliant – to the sets, costumes, and directing. While there is humour and action in small doses, it is the heart-wrenching set pieces and the stand-offs Perlasca has with a variety of opponents which set this work aside from others as truly great. There are moments here which will fulfill any nail-biting, edge-of-seat requirements you may have, and at times the emotion, whilst never melodramatic or over played, is overwhelming. I should mention that I don’t think I recognised any of the cast members from anything else, but special praise goes to the lead- Luca Zingaretti as Perlasca. Those moments where he trades mind-game blows with those in the Nazi ranks only work because of his performance – in a lesser actors shoes we would neither be convinced that his actions would be taken seriously or that he was doing them not for selfish reasons. In spite of the emotional weight on his shoulders, he rarely allows himself to succumb to his emotions, and we can see him holding back at every turn, as an outburst would mean certain death. At times it does feel like his lucky streak is too unbelievable, but this is of course countered by the fact that everyone around him is dying, some of his attempts at rescue are futile, and we never see his ultimate goal – getting home. Special praise should also go to Gyorgy Cserhalmi as the charming, soulless Captain Bleiber and Amanda Sandrelli as Magda.
This is gripping viewing throughout, and feels like an ‘easier’ watch than Schindler’s List though I haven’t quite worked out why I feel this way. Perhaps the main characters are more likable, perhaps we have less of a focus on the Nazis, I’m not sure. Even though the content is similar, and both have horrific visuals, Schindler’s List is a colder film. I would advise anyone with an interest in WWII or war movies in general to give this a go, but of course be warned that there are plenty of scenes that will haunt you once seen, and while not graphic in any way, many may find them too upsetting.
What is your favourite WWII movie, or which film dealing with the Holocaust have you found the most powerful? Let us know in the comments!