German filmmaker Michael Verhoeven returns to the subject of the Holocaust in his latest outing, My Mother’s Courage. Based on writer George Tabori’s recollection of his Jewish mother’s plight in Nazi-held Budapest of 1944, it’s an odd vignette of the war in which fate and fancy overcome the usual grim landscape.
In its simplest sense, the picture is one day in the life of Elsa Tabori (Pauline Collins). A woman who’s boundlessly chipper, she remains confident her husband, a newspaper editor, will be released from prison. However, she’s detained by two old neighbors and told she is among the Jews to be deported to some unknown destination.
But the logical arc and oft-told tragic scenario do not occur, and Elsa Tabori became a hero virtually by default.
Verhoeven is not unmindful of the story’s bizarre quality and employs a number of Brechtian devices to that end. George Tabori pops up in contemporary and historical scenes as a commentator. (Pic was filmed in contemporary Prague).
Collins captures the blithe naivete of the woman but has little else to play. The real standout is Ulrich Tukur as a Nazi officer saddled with the job of supervising the deportation, yet aware that it is morally unfathomable.
[Version reviewed was a 92-min. English-language one shown at the 1995 Toronto fest. This was later replaced by an 88-min. German version, preemed at the 1996 Berlin fest.]