Exploitation director Matt Cimber turns his attention to more serious subjects in “Miriam,” a Los Angeles-lensed WWII drama based on a true story. Low-budget pic marks the screen debut of Telly Savalas’ daughter Ariana (Cimber also has the distinction of having “discovered” Pia Zadora years earlier). In Savalas, Cimber has found an 18-year-old actress with the soulful qualities, if not quite the gravitas, of a young Kate Winslet, and her earnest performance helps transcend the meagerness of the production. Despite troubling sexual themes (while in hiding, Miriam is raped by her protector), this remarkable, albeit unpolished, personal history may prove appropriate for religious or teaching purposes.
Although Miriam Schafer didn’t keep a diary like Anne Frank, her experiences provide the valuable perspective of a 14-year-old Jewish girl whose Aryan looks allowed her to survive WWII in Lithuania disguised as a Christian. But Schafer’s story (intercut with oncamera interviews) didn’t end when the war did; her struggle against Soviet anti-Semitism continued. Savalas plays Schafer from teen to a woman in her 50s, when Schafer keeps her true identity hidden from her KGB husband (Dimitri Diatchencko) and misbegotten daughter (Olga Vilner). Such a touching story warrants retelling with better resources.